Amid the debacle in Afghanistan, Team Biden is caught off guard as, for once, a generally compliant press holds him responsible.
Pstage Ron Klain.
It’s not a good sign when a White House chief of staff to a Democratic president wants to retweet favorable media coverage and all he can find are the least credible and slavishly loyal commentators on the Internet.
The Afghan fiasco created the most disorienting and baffling experience for a progressive administration – a serious episode of critical media coverage immune to the effects of the White House and determined to tell the unvarnished story of an ongoing debacle.
The White House and its allies have lambasted what they present as insular and pro-war media, ignoring its many successes in the Afghan evacuation.
This, like Ron Klain’s tweet, is a sign of desperation and a sense of indignant betrayal that generally reliable allies in this story have switched sides. Say it’s not, CNN.
The White House doesn’t know what it’s like to be the target of the kind of media-feeding frenzy that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis experiences every other day (almost always involving bogus plots).
But on Afghanistan, Joe Biden has indeed set out to test to what extent the media would accept shameless incompetence and dishonesty. The answer? Not enough.
The press is clearly one-sided and even more so over time, repeatedly spreading false stories that have shaken its credibility. Yet there are limits beyond which even this cannot be pushed.
Biden said the Afghan withdrawal would not be another Saigon in weeks of Saigon-style scenes of a rushed evacuation of the US embassy, terrified Afghans clinging to a US transport plane, desperate Afghans passing their babies over barbed wire to the West soldiers guarding the Kabul airport.
There aren’t a number of briefings on the shiny side that will overcome these indelible images, and even a reporter who leaned heavily towards Biden in 2020 and supports his agenda was going to have a hard time looking away.
The contradiction in Biden’s withdrawal case was also too glaring to ignore. He first justified his withdrawal because the Afghan government and army were able to defend the country without us, and then he justified his departure because the government and the army collapsed so quickly. It was what ?
Much of what Biden said in his remarks and press conferences has been vulnerable to instant fact-checks. When he said Americans had no difficulty getting to the airport, reporters were able to immediately attest that this was not true.
Who was everyone supposed to believe? Biden’s misleading assurance, or the convincing report by CNN reporter Clarissa Ward from outside Kabul airport that she was threatened with a whip for not covering her face and that her producer has almost got whipped with a pistol? Ward said it was “chaos” and “a miracle that more people weren’t very, very badly injured.”
Complaints from the administration and its most committed journalistic supporters that the coverage has been unfair and the product of a press biased towards interventionism ring hollow.
It is true that the media on the east coast have more cosmopolitan attitudes than the rest of the country, but they are hardly overflowing with hawks committed to foreign policy. In particular, the press did not oppose President Barack Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 or his nuclear deal with Iran. He has always favored the so-called Middle East peace process.
It’s also not as if only the US media have noticed Biden’s incompetence. If anything, our foreign allies have been tougher on the humiliating mess Biden has fallen into (former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair called him a “jerk”) than the reporters here at home.
Since winning the Democratic nomination last year, Biden has received relentlessly favorable media coverage, forgiving his mistakes and enthusiastic about his alleged accomplishments. It was hard to see what he could do to lose media support, even for a while, and then he botched his withdrawal.
© 2021 by King Features Syndicate
PHOTOS: Evacuation from Afghanistan