Column: Media Boost Biden as 'Above the Fray'

January 15th, 2021 6:06 AM

Pardon me if I laugh when reporters tout that some politician they like is posing as “above the fray.” This fray is something reporters usually force politicians to confront. If they’re effortlessly floating above it, reporters are allowing it.

On the day after House Democrats forced through a very rushed second impeachment of Donald Trump, The New York Times reported on the front page, below the fold: “Biden Stays Above the Fray To Focus on Mounting Crises.”

Translation: “Biden Allowed to Pose as Bravely Focusing on the People’s Business, With Our Help.”

Reporters Michael Shear and Michael Crowley were mere Mike-rophones for the Biden message. Biden “has maintained a studied cool, staying largely removed from the searing debate that culminated on Wednesday with President Trump’s impeachment and keeping his focus on battling a deadly pandemic, reviving a faltering economy and lowering the political temperature.”

He had a “studied cool” as he spent the last week “honing policy proposals and introducing new appointees while delivering a carefully calibrated above-the-fray message.”

That obviously includes the Times carefully calibrating themselves into the Biden PR team.         

Michael and Michael present Biden’s “cautious and centrist approach to politics” in contrast to “the seething anger of many elected Democrats.” Caution is “centrist.” Avoiding the press is “centrist.” With all the jokes about Biden hiding in the basement during most of the campaign, perhaps the metaphor for Biden’s strategy ought to be “below the fray.” 

The Times quotes from Biden statements, because who needs to ask a question? There's not a whisper of anonymous dissent, no hint of “senior Biden advisers shared opinions off the record so they can speak candidly.” To evaluate Biden and his path forward, the Times also helpfully quotes Rep. James Clyburn (an early Biden endorser) and his Team Obama colleagues Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod.

Gibbs is there to acknowledge that Biden won’t find it easy to be “above the fray” once he becomes president. Thanks, Captain Obvious.

But wait, someone might protest, there’s a Republican quoted in there! Is there? Stuart Stevens, a top Romney for President adviser and an “outspoken” Trump critic agreed with the dominant Biden-boosting spin. “I think he looks calm...part of this whole moment is a return to normalcy....They've been very patient.”

Really? Speaking of “calm” and “normalcy,” Stuart Stevens responded in the hours after the horrid rioting on Capitol Hill by spouting on MSNBC that Trump “called on American terrorists to attack the Capitol, which they did more successfully than 9/11 terrorists.” Stevens sounds exactly like one of those “seething” Democrats. He’s not a cautious centrist.

A colleague of mine was amused by a paragraph that wasn’t included in the print edition, but gushes online about 2009, when Barack Obama dared to circumnavigate the “seethers” on George W. Bush. “Mr. Obama approved the public release of Bush White House memos authorizing the use of torture against terrorist suspects. But in a long and Solomonic statement, Mr. Obama called for ‘reflection, not retribution’ on a subject that had some Democrats calling for war crimes prosecutions.”

Obama had all the wisdom of King Solomon. This neatly matched the time frame when then-Times reporter Jeff Zeleny asked Obama in a nationally televised press conference “what “enchanted you the most” about his first months in the big job.

The Times is choosing Biden over the red-hot Democrat “seethers” as it seeks to “maintain his political viability within the system,” to borrow from an old Bill Clinton mantra. In their book, Trump is cooked, and Biden needs to promote his own liberal agenda. “The president-elect tries to project calm,” they wrote, and they were the most cooperative projectors.