Democrats running for president have a new message for the news media: We’re not going to take it anymore.
No longer willing to stoically suffer through bad, misleading press coverage, Democrats are borrowing a page from Republicans by going public with their complaints and demanding journalists do better. But unlike Republicans who often “work the refs” by griping about imaginary slights in hopes of better treatment in the future, Democrats are calling out the press with wholly accurate claims of media malpractice.
Last week, Joe Biden's presidential campaign sent a blistering letter to New York Times editor Dean Baquet, reprimanding the paper for helping spread Donald Trump's debunked conspiracy theory about Joe Biden and his son's business dealings in Ukraine. It's “part of a larger strategy not to let the same coverage that corrupted the 2016 election happen this time around,” a campaign source told CNN's Brian Stelter.
The stinging critique from Biden came one day after the Times published an opinion column from discredited right-wing author Peter Schweizer, once again hyping the Biden/Ukraine story. Schweizer, who wrote a patently dishonest book about Hillary Clinton in 2015 alleging all sorts of made-up crimes—a book the Times helped market and promote during the campaign—has been peddling the Biden smear all year within the far-right media ecosystem.
It was the Times that trumpeted Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash as the “the most anticipated and feared book” of the 2016 campaign season. And it was the Times that forged an exclusive alliance with the Breitbart-backed book (published by a Rupert Murdoch-owned subsidiary), and used the factually erroneous tome as a guidepost for Hillary Clinton ‘gotcha’ articles.
As for this campaign cycle, even after mainstream news outlets had completely debunked the hollow claims about Biden that Schweizer was peddling, the Times invited the smear's architect, who has a soft spot for plagiarism, to spread more partisan attacks via the newspaper. Also, note that it was the Times that got caught last May trying to peddle the GOP's anti-Biden storyline about Ukraine in the first place.
And yes, the right-wing media feasted on the Times' handiwork last spring, and presented it as confirmation that Biden is corrupt. More recently, the Times often tied Trump's attempt to get a foreign player to interfere with an American election with the bogus allegations Biden has faced regarding Ukraine, suggesting that both Trump and Biden were being sullied in the process.
The Biden campaign’s aggressive response last week represents a new approach for prominent Democratic candidates. In the past, party stalwarts often ignored press slights, likely feeling that media critiques weren't why they were running for president and that candidates didn't want to get distracted from larger, more important issues. But after Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes yet still lost the election thanks to some of the most openly hostile, sexist, and unfair campaign coverage in modern American history, Democratic campaigns are moving faster and much more forcefully to call out bad behavior and pressure news organizations to do better.
- I've started a new media newsletter, Press Run, to help hold the press accountable - February 6, 2020
- 2019, the year the press tried—and failed—to stand up to Trump - December 31, 2019
- Impeachment has been a messaging disaster for the White House. Why won't the press say so? - December 22, 2019
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