The Shameless Media Partisans Who Praised Biden’s Afghan Debacle

August 19th, 2023 8:30 AM

Two years ago this week, even liberal journalists were appalled by the disastrous incompetence of the Biden administration regarding the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. Yet quickly the most shameless partisan journalists identified themselves by deciding to praise, rather than criticize, the disaster that all could see with their own eyes.

On July 8, 2021, President Biden assured Americans: “The likelihood that the Taliban will run the whole country is highly unlikely,” and that the military forces of Afghanistan were “as well-equipped as any army in the world.” Just six weeks later, on August 15, the Taliban seized Kabul as the Afghan military completely collapsed.

The broadcast networks made no attempt to sugarcoat the unfolding disaster. “A catastrophe for its people and a debacle for the Biden administration,” NBC’s Savannah Guthrie announced on the August 16 Today. “The quick takeover described as, ‘Saigon on steroids,’” ABC’s Robin Roberts concurred, referring to America’s ignominious evacuation of Vietnam in 1975.

After Biden spoke that afternoon, ABC’s Terry Moran offered a scathing assessment, saying the President “shifted blame. He said, you know, ‘the buck stops here,’ but it was hard to see where he actually accepted responsibility....He did not, in any way, accept responsibility for the catastrophe that’s unfolded.”

In the days that followed, Americans were horrified to see desperate Afghans clinging to the wheels of departing U.S. planes, some dropping from the sky. Many thousands of Afghans had helped the U.S. during the long years of war, and were now marked for death by the Taliban; as throngs crowded the airport hoping for a way out, a suicide bomber attacked one of the gates, killing 13 American military personnel and 170 Afghans.

TV cameras made sure American viewers saw the horrors with their own eyes. “I can’t even fathom what level of desperation an individual needs to be at where they are literally throwing their baby over razor wire to get them to safety,” CNN’s Clarissa Ward fretted on New Day, August 20. Recalling how Biden said, “I don’t think it was a failure,” Ward wondered: “If this isn’t failure, what does failure look like?”

But even amid the dark reality of the administration’s failures, the Democratic cheerleaders in the media insisted that Biden had done an excellent job, and even blamed their fellow journalists for daring to portray the withdrawal as a debacle. “Has the coverage been out of proportion, out of step with the American public?” CNN’s Brian Stelter suggested on August 22, just a week after the fall of Kabul.

“This political fiasco is not a development that the media covered so much as one that it created,” charged New York magazine’s Eric Levitz in an article posted three days later. And Joe Biden has “done an extremely good job in the situation,” former ABC News analyst Matthew Dowd insisted on MSNBC. “[He] should be congratulated on the way this was done….I think the President has done unbelievable yeoman’s work.”

From the MRC’s archives, a sampling of the most brazenly partisan quotes showing journalists attempting to help Biden avoid the consequences of his Afghanistan failure:

■ “I think he [President Joe Biden] took a very tough decision, a brave decision, and maybe at the end of the day there is no elegant way to lose a war.”
— CNN host Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, August 16, 2021.

■ “95% of the American people will agree with everything he just said. 95% of the press covering this White House will disagree. And for an American president to finally be completely aligned with such an overwhelming majority of what the American people think about Afghanistan is probably a tremendous relief to the American people.”
— MSNBC’s Deadline: White House host Nicolle Wallace during MSNBC live coverage, August 16, 2021. A subsequent poll by Reuters/Ipsos found only 38% of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan pullout.

■ CNN’s Brian Stelter: “The mainstream media’s tone has also been scathing. I heard complaints from Biden’s aides about this....Has the coverage been out of proportion, out of step with the American public?...”
Salon’s Amanda Marcotte: “[This type of coverage is] why it was so hard for presidents in the past to pull out of Afghanistan. They were afraid of exactly this kind of press overreaction. There’s no way to surrender, leave, withdraw, whatever you want to call it in a war without things getting ugly. And I feel there was something pollyannish about expecting anything different and it disappoints me that the press is behaving in this way.”
— Discussion on CNN’s Reliable Sources, August 22, 2021.

■ “I actually have lauded the President from the very beginning about Afghanistan. He was dealt a horrible situation. And as of today, he’s done an extremely good job in the situation….What he’s done over the course of the last week, should be congratulated on the way this was done….I think the President has done unbelievable yeoman’s work.”
— Former ABC News chief political analyst Matthew Dowd on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront, August 24, 2021.

■ “The latest polls have shown sharp drops in Biden’s approval rating, driven in part by widespread opposition to ‘the way’ his administration handled its (otherwise popular) exit from Afghanistan. Yet this political fiasco is not a development that the media covered so much as one that it created.”
New York magazine’s Eric Levitz in an August 25, 2021 article, “The Media Manufactured Biden’s Political ‘Fiasco’ in Afghanistan.”

■ Host Joe Scarborough: “I suspect that is not going to be an issue that’s going to be driving any voters in 2022 or very few voters…. More and more people are going to agree with what he did as we move forward.”...
AP White House correspondent Jonathan Lemire: “Eventually Americans will even give him credit for being the U.S. president that was able to finally end the war.”
— MSNBC’s Morning Joe, August 25, 2021.

■ Democratic strategist James Carville: “The evacuations are actually going much better than a lot of people expected....This war was lost a long time ago and Joe Biden had nothing to do with it. He wanted us out before this....”
Anchor Brian Williams: “Does Biden need more friends, and more vocal friends, in Washington to point all this out?”
Carville: “Well, first of all, he would be greatly benefitted if the press would cover this accurately.”
— Exchange on MSNBC’s The 11th Hour, August 25, 2021.

Former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill: “The hypocrisy of the people who are piling on Joe Biden for trying to end this war is stunning....It was time for this to end, and Joe Biden had the courage to do it.”
Host Joy Reid: “That’s exactly right.”
McCaskill: “I’m proud that he did.”
Reid: “Absolutely.”
— Exchange on MSNBC’s The ReidOut, August 26, 2021.

■ “We should be a little bit more level-headed about this.... I think you have to give them [the Biden administration] some credit for what, number one, getting out, and number two, getting as many people out as possible....People should stop beating up on the administration so much because no matter how it ended, everyone wasn’t going to be happy with the way it ended.”
— Host Don Lemon on CNN Tonight, September 1, 2021.

■ “I don’t think it will be long-lasting at all....This is a momentary blip for the President.”
Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart on PBS’s NewsHour, September 3, 2021.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.