Column: The Watchdogs Nap for Biden

April 21st, 2021 6:04 AM

President Biden has averaged a 56 percent approval rating from his inauguration through March, according to Gallup, about the same as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and much higher than Donald Trump (42 percent).  One factor in that approval might be in the tone of press coverage.

Rich Noyes and Bill D’Agostino of the Media Research Center have studied ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs from January 20 through April 9. Televised evaluations of Biden’s performance (screening out politicians and administration officials) were 59 percent positive.

The tone would be even more positive except for one nagging problem – the crisis with surging illegal immigration at the southern border, which Team Biden denies is a “crisis.” That’s dismissed as a “right-wing talking point.” But it drew the most negative coverage, 82 percent negative. The TV “news” crews were much more positive about massive government spending for “COVID relief” and “infrastructure.”    

Four years ago, President Trump’s evening-news evaluations were 89 percent negative, a jarring contrast. Leftists on Twitter were hostile to the idea that you could compare these presidents in any way.

Hollywood producer Steven DeKnight bleated: “You can’t compare a pile of [feces] and a bowl of petunias and say they both smell wonderful.” John Aravosis of AmericaBlog tweeted “Now compare coverage of Stalin and Mother Theresa [sic].”

That’s a fair representation of journalistic attitudes toward the two men. One’s a horrible monster, one’s a perfumed saint. No one said their coverage should be exactly the same in tone or substance.

Trump’s coverage stayed this relentlessly negative, because the “objective” press couldn’t abide any policy expert or citizen on the street saying something positive about Trump. But there are more differences than that. For example:

1. Biden’s much less prominent. Biden’s total coverage added up to 725 minutes, or 18 percent of all evening-news air time. That’s much smaller than the 1,900 minutes these shows devoted to obsessing over Trump.

2. Biden was barely evaluated. While Trump drew 1,687 evaluations in his first weeks, Biden was only evaluated 264 times, about 16 percent of the Trump total. Trump was criticized far more than Biden was praised. This signals Biden wasn’t controversial enough to evaluate. His reign was accepted and acceptable.

3. Trump was a rolling scandal. Roughly 90 percent of network news coverage of the Biden administration (650 minutes out of 726) was spent on policy issues; that compares to just 45 percent of Trump administration coverage during the first weeks. Months before Robert Mueller’s prolonged special counsel probe, Trump was dogged by unproven Russian “collusion” claims (for 222 minutes), and the networks delighted in finding controversy in Trump’s tweets and taunts.

That’s why Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel joked on Twitter: “Why hasn’t the media been covering Biden’s constant Twitter fights with members of his own party?” That’s certainly true. Biden’s tweets are bland, like “Everyone 16 and older in America is eligible for the shot today. Go and get ‘em, folks.” But it’s also true that Democrat reporters bury intra-party controversy when Democrats rule.  

4. When Biden said scandalous things, the networks were bored. Biden’s insult about Republicans exhibiting “Neanderthal thinking” drew 83 seconds. His encouragement of Major League Baseball to punish Georgia by relocating the All-Star game merited only 45 seconds. And his scabrous claim that Georgia’s new voting law was like “Jim Crow” passed by with just 39 seconds of coverage, none of it the slightest bit critical.

Like every Democrat president of the TV age, Joe Biden has been and will be celebrated, promoted....coddled. The scrutiny fizzles. The watchdog naps.