There’s a delicate balance at play as more and more information dribbles out about Joe Biden having illegally retained unknown numbers of classified government documents as a private citizen: How much concern can the national media show without appearing to suggest in any way that he’s guilty of the same thing they’re hoping to see Donald Trump indicted for?
They know that after months of ceaseless heaving over Trump leaving the White House with documents he wasn’t entitled to keep, they can’t pooh-pooh it that Biden has been in illegal possession of government material for years after his stint as vice president in the Obama administration. At the same time, they can’t stray from the Trump-is-an-evil-without-peer line that they’ve been so committed to for seven years.
For everyone in the media struggling with this dynamic, you need look no further than the misfits of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” for help. On Monday’s show, they delivered a master course on how to fake just enough outrage over Biden, while simultaneously excusing him for the same behavior they claim makes Trump a democracy-ending fugitive.
The formula, as demonstrated by Mika Brzezinski, John Heilemann, and the Grinch-looking Jonathan Lemire, is to adopt a disapproving and grave tone; focus not on the illegally possessed and dangerously handled documents, but the manner in which White House officials discuss the matter; and, ultimately, assert that this is a disappointing misstep but not much more than that. All the better if you can add a bunch of asides that render any commentary just short of nonsensical.
Joe Biden … is very good at owning it and pushing for transparency. I think the explaining is where things got weak, honestly. There was a lot of defensiveness from the White House podium, a lot of pushing back, a lot of hedging. And this is not the kind of situation where you can hedge for a second. You’ve got to know your stuff. You’ve got to understand it and quite frankly, it might have been good to bring in someone who understands the handling of classified material…
Tsk, tsk. If only there hadn’t been so much hedging. Kudos on “owning it” and the “transparency,” though!
Heilemann was next with what can only be described as a babbling brook of a response (generously cleaned up for some clarity):
Yeah, Mika, I do think you’re putting your finger on something important, which is that, you know, Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, is a lawyer and a really smart lawyer. And it seems like in how they’ve dealt with this — they have handled, in terms of ethics, in terms of transparency internally to the Justice Department, in terms of responsiveness, in terms of straightforwardness, on all the legal fronts, they have handled this extraordinarily well.
Just like Brzezinski, Heilemann was sure to profusely praise Biden before offering anything that sounded like a critique.
More from his comments:
The public-facing parts of this, the communications parts of it — and often we blame — we talk in our business all the time, you know, we say something’s a communications problem. Often, it’s not a communications problem, it’s a policy problem. In this case, it seems that the Biden administration, to the extent that we know, has been handling this by the book legally, but it’s done a very poor job up to now in communicating with the American people. … I really do agree with you 1,000 percent that this is a thing, they have not handled it well in terms of communications so far. They must start to handle it better going forward if they’re going to minimize the political risks involved, and synchronize with how well they’re handling it, it seems so far, on the legal side, getting their political and communications house in order in the same way.
I know that was exhausting to read but this is the way to strike the perfect balance between acknowledging Biden has done something very wrong — and illegal! — and withholding any judgment that puts him in the same category as Trump, for doing the same thing as Trump.
Brzezinski: “Yeah, for sure.”
And finally, Lemire: “Yeah. Totally agree there. I think many of the Democrats are nodding their heads along with John Heilemann right there.”
I bet they are! Because they’re all just as disappointed in the way Biden has been “communicating with the American people.” It’s unfortunate, really. But that’s all. Hopefully he’ll get his “political and communications house in order.”
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