On PBS and NPR, David Brooks Defends Biden Medal Mangle: 'He's Not Mendacious'

September 1st, 2019 9:09 AM

On Friday night's week in review on the PBS NewsHour, the taxpayer-funded network's dynamic duo of pundits upset the hardcore left by agreeing "the steam went out" of impeachment. But when it came to Joe Biden mangling the facts of a medal ceremony honoring a military hero, New York Times columnist David Brooks came rushing to Biden's defense, that unlike the president, he's not "mendacious" or "irresponsible" with the facts. 

Brooks had just suggested psychiatrists see "red flags" about Trump's mental state, and liberal pundit Mark Shields complained Trump "is almost driven to make up stories about President Obama, that President Obama gave away Crimea to Putin, that — you know, it's just — it's sort of a fabricated thing. And that, to me, is bizarre....Adlai Stevenson once said, better we lose an election than mislead the American people. Donald Trump lies when he doesn't have to."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I don't want to draw too close a comparison here, but, David, this week there was attention to Joe Biden because he has been telling a story about meetings he had with U.S. — American veterans who were fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan and telling very emotional, compelling stories about pinning a medal on them and, you know, how one was — retrieved a buddy from a burning vehicle and another one rappelled down a cliff and so forth. But it turns out these are different things that happened jumbled together with some, frankly, inaccurate pieces. You know, there's been — some are saying this should be connected and compared to the president. Others are saying in no way.

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, I think in no way. I mean, Biden may be aging, and maybe that's an issue. I think it is a legitimate issue for voters to think about. But he is not mendacious, he is not irresponsible. He may embellish a story to improve its dramatic effect. And he may be for getting things. Our memories are just much more fallible than we think. Every memory expert will tell you that. And when you're on the campaign trail doing thousands of events traveling everywhere, things get jostled in your mind.

So, it could be just the normal jostling of campaign. And for some reason, we have gotten into a pattern where a Biden gaffe is the story. So he will do eight good things in the campaign, tells one mistake, and that's the story, because that's the story we associate with Joe Biden right now. But it is something for voters to monitor. I don't think embellishing that kind of story is like something that is necessarily a sign that he is over the hill.

Brooks insisted "It is noticeable with voters that people will forgive you for getting the facts wrong if you get your basic narrative right...That if you — basically, the America you see is the America voters recognize, that's what they care about."

The same reluctant routine happened with Brooks and the anchor Audie Cornish on NPR's All Things Considered. 

AUDIE CORNISH: Punditry 101, folks. I want to come back to Joe Biden for a second. The latest issue he's had is that he appears to have told a story about traveling to a war zone as vice president and saying that he was meeting up with a general while he was there. Now, the problem is that, according to The Washington Post, it seems that he got some of the main details wrong -- maybe conflated them with other events. Either way, here's some of what he told to an audience in New Hampshire this week....[plays Biden audio]

Now, as I said, The Post is saying he's gotten some serious details wrong, conflated it with other events. David, how much does this matter? People seem to be on sort of gaffe watch, so to speak, when it comes to Biden.

BROOKS: If it keeps happening, people should monitor. But it has been a problem, as you suggest. It's now the only story for Biden. So if Biden does nine really good things in a day but commits a gaffe, that's going to be the story of the day for Joe Biden. So he's sort of stuck with that. I would say, if you talk to memory experts, our memories are much more malleable and much worse than we think they are. And the only thing I have comparable to politics is going on book tours to try to talk about my books. And I can tell you, if you're travelling every day giving a thousand speeches, you really can't remember if you said this anecdote to this audience before. So...

In this case, the liberal pundit Sabrina Siddiqui of The Guardian dragged out the dominant CNN spin, that "given the president's propensity for falsehoods, I think The Washington Post, which reported on this Biden issue, put Trump's falsehoods at 12,000 since taking office. People are a little bit more forgiving when it comes to some of these other candidates."