by Victor Davis Hanson
In American journalism, there are supposed to be some clear, nonnegotiable third-rails.
One is zero tolerance for overtly racist language and comportment among our movers and shakers. Reporters, for example, for four years damned Donald Trump for his neutralizing summation that there were both “fine people” and extremists mingled among the hordes of protestors during their occasionally violent encounters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It mattered little to the media that Trump added qualifiers of “many” and “both” sides of the protests:
We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides . . . And I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally—but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? . . . Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats—you had a lot of bad people in the other group, too.
Selected words from the above quote were recycled ad nauseam as proof Trump was a racist.
Another no-go zone is any hint of contextualizing sexual harassment or assault. No statute of limitations can provide exemption, much less a “she said/he said” defense in the age of “women must be believed.” The Brett Kavanaugh circus of September 2018 was a reminder that a lack of evidence, credible witnesses, or basic logic is no defense against the 30-year-old charges of alleged teenage sexual misbehavior. Bill Clinton managed to use his progressive credentials as an insurance policy to avoid for months any condemnation that he was a callous womanizer, but finally the press corps found his exploitative appetites too egregious to ignore.
A third zero-tolerance zone is any hint of presidential debility. We were told in the dark days of 1973 that Nixon was non compos mentis, nursing his wounds with drink as his legendary constitution finally cracked under the pressure, making him supposedly unable physically to withstand the impending impeachment. “Saturday Night Live” made an industry out of Chevy Chase replaying Gerald Ford’s stumbles. Ronald Reagan was all but declared senile by the press for using index cards in some of his summits and speeches, or putting his hand to his ear and claiming he could not fathom reporters’ gottcha questions amid the din of swirling helicopter blades on the White House lawn.
Finally, lying, fibbing, and even presidential exaggeration are deemed intolerable—or so we are told by the media. It does not matter that the newsroom is currently one of the great purveyors of untruth, as we saw in the Russian collusion hoax, the dubious Wuhan wet-market narrative, or the yarn about the Lafayette Square militarization to green-light a Trump photo-op.
Reporters never let Richard Nixon live down his “tricky Dick” reputation for his purported bouts of misinformation. Lyndon Johnson’s lies about the supposed impending victory in Vietnam doomed him.
George H. W. Bush never got free of his “Read my lips: No new taxes” pledge. Bill Clinton was impeached because what he said about his sexual misadventures, sometimes under oath, could not be squared with the facts.
There is no need to rehash the media’s echo chamber of “Bush lied, people died” in connection with the flawed CIA intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. One reason why the media’s canonization of Barack Obama ultimately failed was the latter’s blatant lies. (Who can forget “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”?) The Washington Post and an epidemic of “fact-checkers” tallied up all of Trump’s exaggerations and contradictions to convince the public that he was an inveterate liar.
Americans may disagree with these journalistic rules, but to quote Hyman Roth about the state of our media, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”
Yet it is arguable that while no other president in modern memory has trespassed more egregiously on these no-go areas than Joe Biden, he has received no criticism for his transgressions.
Joe Biden (never mind his son, Hunter) has compiled the most glaring rap sheet of racist quotes of any current modern political leader. He characterized Barack Obama as the first “clean and articulate” black presidential candidate. He told a group of accomplished black professionals that Romney would put “y’all back in chains,” as if they were helpless laborers.
Biden’s rants about Indians and donut shops, the Corn Pop fables, his dismissals of black journalists with put-downs such as “you ain’t black” and invectives such as “junkie” would have disqualified any other candidate. His earlier treatment of Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court nomination confirmation hearing, his idolization of fossilized racist kingpins in the Senate, his rhetoric on busing and black career criminals, were all couched in racial condescension.
At a time when the current incarnation of Biden is siccing the federal government—and the Pentagon in particular—on a mythical, nationwide white supremacist conspiracy, the president’s own son is revealed to have habitually used the N-word and emulated what he thought was a backward black patois. Was Joe warning America about Hunter, when he charged that white supremacy reigned and must be dethroned?
While Joe Biden is also pointing fingers at white America with despicable false accusations of anti-Asian hate crimes (in truth, these attacks disproportionately are committed by black males), the press is quiet about Hunter Biden’s exchanges with his cousin Caroline Biden over set-up “dates.” In one, Caroline warns Hunter “I can’t give you f—ing Asian sorry. I’m not doing it.” Hunter trumps her racist slurs with his own agreement: “No yellow.”
That story was buried by mainstream journalists who have long ago fused with the progressive cause.
As senator, vice president, and presidential candidate Joe Biden was often caught—and occasionally even apologized for—habitually touching, smooching, squeezing, hugging, and breathing on women, some of them preteens, in a manner that can only be called creepy, with all of the females recoiling at his advances. When the intrusions became too great to ignore, the would-be president said only he would be “mindful” of invading the private space of women.
Tara Reade, a former assistant in Senator Biden’s office, replayed the role of Christine Blasey Ford with charges of sexual assault—but with far greater credibility and detail (“There was no exchange, really, he just had me up against the wall . . . I remember it happened all at once . . . his hands were on me and underneath my clothes.”). Reade provided corroborating evidence, and explicit details of assault, yet the same journalists and politicians—again so often joined at the hip—who had sought to destroy Brett Kavanaugh gave Biden a pass, absurdly citing the statute of limitations, and even questioning the sanity and stability of Reade herself.
As far as presidential health goes, even Donald Trump’s enemies have remarked on his almost unnatural stamina and energy, characterized by 20-hour work days and near inexplicable rapid recovery from COVID-19. No matter. By mid-2017 there was a nonstop journalist mantra that Trump was “crazy” and “unhinged,” and too “sick” to remain president. The clamor continued until Trump himself took the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and aced the exam’s questions. A Yale psychiatrist achieved mini-celebrity status by unprofessionally diagnosing Trump in absentia as mentally challenged and in need of a forced intervention—unhinged charges that nonetheless enhanced reporters’ frenzied calls for invocation of the 25th Amendment.
Contrast this with Joe Biden. He has trouble walking up the steps of the Air Force One. He forgets names and events. His days are short and his attention span shorter, his press conferences rare—and scripted. At the recent G-7 summit he displayed a mishmash of bizarre interruptions, “get off my lawn” temper tantrums at reporters, slurred words, incomplete thoughts and sentences, cognitive freezes, and general fragilities. His own administration, or more likely those around Vice President Kamala Harris, habitually leak to their lackeys in the media portentous “worries” that Biden’s infirmities are such that they can longer be successfully hidden. And yet the ruse continues.
Finally, Biden says things that are just flat out lies. He declared that no Americans had been vaccinated until he took office, despite a presidential photo-op of him greeting the vaccination on December 21, 2020, and the fact 1 million people had been vaccinated by the day he took office, including him. At the G-7 meeting Biden offered his most egregious untruth—that Trump supporters had killed officer Brian Sicknick—although the autopsy report, now several weeks old, found Sicknick had died of natural causes a day after the riot. While the border is wide open, Biden ignores the chaos and asserts the border is secure and closed. Hunter Biden’s laptop, Joe insists, was a result of “Russian disinformation.” Almost everything Biden has said on illegal immigration, the effects of his proposed tax hikes, and the January 6 Capitol assault is untrue.
Reporters ignore the mounting lies, ironically winking and in acknowledgement that most are the result of Biden’s own cognitive deterioration—as if it is more reassuring that a president does not know what he is saying rather than is saying something untrue.
How can we explain this utter dereliction of American journalism?
The media was always left-leaning. But after 2016, it openly announced that it could no longer remain unbiased given the existential threats supposedly posed by President Trump. CNN transmogrified from a leftist airport news aggregator into a purveyor of whoppers, open threats against the president, and outright obscenities.
Remember the blasé reporting about presidential decapitation and poisoning? On-air discussion of defecation? The forced retractions of fake news? The retirements and firings for fabricating stories? All that characterized CNN after 2015.
But aside from Trump, another reason why journalism died was the rise of Silicon Valley and related left-wing billionaires, enriched from monopolies of social media and Internet communications, buying up media companies. Abetted by the subversion of higher education that turned journalism schools into ideological factories, the tech oligarchs made war on the First Amendment, which they hate almost as much as the Second. Reporters were rewarded handsomely for upholding woke orthodoxy, knowing that while an accurate story offering a positive view of a conservative could stall a career, any inaccurate negative take on conservatism was likely to be job enhancing.
Finally, there is no longer a Democratic Party—at least not of the kind that Joe Manchin and earlier incarnations of Joe Biden and Bill Clinton used to represent. The Left talks of Representative Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) psychodramas and fissures in the Republican Party, but only because civil war for control of the Democratic Party is long over, and was won by the hardcore neosocialist left. Now it is only a matter of mopping up stragglers and relics.
Translated into presidential coverage, reporters know that any tough question or honest reporting on Joe Biden will not be praised for disinterested journalism or personal courage, but damned as apostasy and disloyalty. In truth, Democratic politicians treat the media now as if they were obedient poodles. They consider any who timidly bark when not so instructed to be in need of neutering.
The final ironies? The Democratic Party won the long march through journalism, but this Pyrrhic victory has meant the destruction of every principle of journalistic integrity liberals ever claimed to champion. Now its most progressive leaders—Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi—have grown so accustomed to fawning Soviet-style reportage that they no longer have the ability to answer any real journalist’s questions.
Stranger still, the beneficiaries of media obsequiousness have nothing but contempt for the helots who now serve them. Remember Ben Rhodes’ haughty putdown of slavish journalists who “know nothing” and were unknowingly drowning in the swampy echo chambers he had so cynically created?
Once politicians lose all fear of the press, they will say and do anything in their hubris, as we now see with the completely unmoored Joe Biden. And having lost not just the respect of the public but also the regard of the very progressives they idolize, America’s journalists are routinely slapped down as the fawning toadies they have become.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.
Photo “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0.