Foreign policy expert details the reflexive 'journalistic curse' that’s 'undermining' U.S. democracy
The fact that liberals and progressives — as well as right-wing Never Trump conservatives — were glad to see former President Donald Trump depart the White House on January 20, 2021 doesn’t mean that they believe President Joe Biden should be exempt from scrutiny. Many Never Trumpers who generally like Biden’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been scathing critics of the way he handled the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan; many liberals and progressives wish that Biden favored a government-operated “Medicare-for-all” health care system rather than funding Obamacare.
But Marvin Kalb, in an article published by the Brookings Institution’s website on July 21, argues that “bothsideism” serves no useful purpose for the media when it comes to Biden or any other Democrat. In fact, Kalb — a Brookings senior fellow known for his focus on foreign policy — describes “bothsideism” as a “journalistic curse” and stresses that there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to covering politicians.
“Not only does criticism not come in equal shapes and sizes, appropriate for all presidents and both political parties — a journalistic curse called ‘bothsideism’ — but, when unfairly applied, as it has been in covering Biden, it runs the serious risk of further damaging our still-free press and weakening our already shaky democracy,” Kalb writes. “The press image of Biden, president of the United States of America, has been whittled down to that of a doddering old man, wobbly on his feet and barely able to articulate a single thought without slurring. Is that a fair and balanced image of Biden? Hardly. But can the press do better?”
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Kalb points out that according to Washington Post opinion columnist Perry Bacon Jr., some journalists believed that because they did so much negative reporting on former President Donald Trump when he was in office, they have felt the need to show “balance” by going out of their way to write negative articles about Biden.
“Granted, the press is ordinarily skeptical of any incoming president, but Biden was never given much of a honeymoon,” Kalb argues. “Still, Biden survived his first few months in office in reasonably good shape. His approval rating was a respectable 55 percent. Some journalists were willing to give the new president the benefit of the doubt on controversial issues. But, as we know, Biden’s poll numbers dropped dramatically after he made the controversial decision, in August 2021, to withdraw the last contingent of American forces from Afghanistan under conditions that were, to say the least, challenging…. What we have all noticed is that as Biden’s poll numbers collapsed, negative coverage of him rose, leading in turn to still lower poll numbers, which have only further darkened his political prospects — a looping interaction between polling and press negativity from which there seems no escape.”
Kalb writes that while Fox News is expected to “attack Biden regardless of the facts,” the “mainstream press” should be doing a better job.
“I suspect there are more than a few Fox reporters who know better,” Kalb writes. “I have no hope for Fox commentators. They are in another world. But it is not understandable when the mainstream press blows a daily, even hourly, opportunity to cover Biden fairly…. The tendency to wallow in the negative represents a major and continuing failure of the American press, which has now mushroomed into a problem of such historic importance that, if left unattended, may soon contribute mightily to the undermining of American democracy.”
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