Is Biden really getting an unfair shake from the media?

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·Senior Editor
·6 min read
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  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Over the past few weeks, Democratic lawmakers and left-leaning political pundits have been struggling to make sense of what they see as a puzzling disconnect when it comes to the public’s view of President Biden: Though he has overseen a booming economic recovery and is promoting an extremely popular legislative agenda, the president’s popularity continues to dip.

While plenty of fingers have been pointed at the White House for bad messaging and Congress for obstructing Biden’s agenda, the media is also coming under increasing scrutiny for the way it has covered the Biden administration. That conversation kicked into high gear earlier this month, when the Washington Post published an analysis of thousands of news headlines that suggested Biden has received more negative coverage over the past four months than former President Donald Trump did in the same time span last year, despite Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic.

Several high-level White House figures, including chief of staff Ron Klain, shared the Post’s story. In the days that followed, there were multiple reports quoting administration officials arguing that the mainstream media was unfairly covering Biden’s presidency and hurting his standing with the public.

Why there’s debate

In the eyes of many political media figures, those criticisms from the White House are entirely fair. They argue that the mainstream press — a label that typically doesn’t include conservative outlets, despite the immense popularity of Fox News — has consistently hurt Biden by overlooking his accomplishments, overstating his shortcomings and focusing far too much on the squabbles within the Democratic Party. Others say the media hasn’t done enough to highlight Republican obstruction of popular administration proposals such as prescription drug pricing reform, or focused enough attention on GOP efforts to undermine future elections.

Many political pundits have pushed back on the idea that their coverage is unfairly slanted against Biden. They argue that it’s their job to describe what’s happening in Washington without considering whether that description is flattering or not. Biden’s low approval ratings, they say, are the result of poor messaging on his part and Democrats’ inability to pass his agenda, not media bias.

Conservatives, for the most part, think the entire debate is laughable. They say Biden is still enjoying incredibly favorable coverage compared to the treatment Trump received during his presidency. Others add that there’s no mystery behind Biden’s poor polling numbers when you look at his performance since taking office.

What’s next

Experts say Biden’s relatively low standing with the public is a bad sign for his party’s hopes of holding on to the House of Representatives and Senate in next year’s midterm elections, but things could look very different by November if the economy keeps improving, the pandemic subsides and Democrats find a way to enact at least some of Biden’s policy proposals.

Perspectives

The political press is obsessed with finding Biden’s faults and ignores his successes

“Do not hold your breath for the media to convey nuance or to run ‘the economy is pretty strong, actually’ headlines. And even if inflation subsides a year from now, do not expect ‘President Biden in peril! Democrats doomed!’ coverage to end.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

The media is holding Biden to a much tougher standard than it had for Trump

“The press corps wants to prove they’re not one-sided and the little miscues that wouldn’t have made the list of a thousand Trump outrages, they beat up on Biden for in the same way they beat up on Carter for things that wouldn’t have made the cut under Nixon.” — Jonathan Alter, political historian, to Daily Beast

The media is biased in Biden’s favor, but Americans aren’t convinced

“You cannot spin someone about their grocery bill, or how much they paid to fill up their tank of gas. Even if Biden administration officials can Jedi Mind Trick their way into getting reporters to give gushing coverage of their economic policies, Americans will not come around if they’re still paying more than $3 per gallon of gas.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review

Biden should not receive rosy coverage just because he’s not Trump

“No true ‘partisan for democracy’ can simply be a reflexive defender of a politician. No matter how well intended, adopting this tendency will only further undermine the civic edifice — and it plays into the hands of democracy’s would-be gravediggers.” — Jason Linkins, New Republic

The media’s overhyped coverage of inflation has made a strong economy appear weak

“It’s implausible to assert that the tone of media coverage is irrelevant. It’s not even necessarily a partisan thing. My world is full of economic commentators who have spent years eager to moralize about the evils of inflation. … Now they have their chance, and they’re surely having some effect on public perceptions.” — Paul Krugman, New York Times

There hasn’t been nearly enough focus on Republican attacks on democracy

“What top U.S. journalists need to see is that Biden’s performance is A story, but the performance of the fragile American system under attack from authoritarianism is THE story.” — Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer

Biden has been far from perfect, but the press is overstating his shortcomings

“Media biases have been a real problem for Biden. But so have objective realities.” — Eric Levitz, New York

The media is allowing its own narratives to distort its coverage

“This mostly reflects normal media bias. When the president is unpopular, everything is interpreted with that in mind, so Biden’s lower approval ratings are causing bad media coverage rather than the other way around. If he becomes more popular, his media coverage will improve.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg

Biden is not doing a good enough job getting his message across

“Biden needs people to listen to him if he’s going to convince voters that Democrats have done what they seem like they might finally actually do: pass trillions of dollars’ worth of legislation that will materially improve this country. The president’s messaging is stuck in a black hole.” — Lili Loofbourow, Slate

Biden’s media coverage is negative because he’s doing a bad job

“Being hard on politicians is what reporters are supposed to do. They’re not supposed to take anything at face value. They’re supposed to double-check everything. And let’s face it: There’s been plenty of bad news for the press to focus on in the months since Biden took over.” — Tom Wrobleski, Staten Island Advance

A lot of Democrats incorrectly expect the political press to be their ally

“Many of us Democrats reflexively defend the media in response to Republicans’ smear campaigns against it. And again, ideally, we should. The media at its best helps to hold the people in power in check. But constantly coming to the defense of media without some critical thinking has also contributed to a false and equally harmful feeling among Democrats that the media is on our side.” — Dean Obeidallah, MSNBC

The influence of conservative news outlets shouldn’t be overlooked

“There’s two things that are true here. Yes, there’s real angst in America. There’s also this propaganda machine saying ‘armageddon’s on the way.’” — Brian Stelter, CNN

Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to the360@yahoonews.com.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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