Order of the Brown Nose

·5 min read

Britain’s essential fortnightly magazine Private Eye, whose trademark stance of delivering hard news with a witty bipartisan cynicism about politics has no parallel in the U.S., runs a regular feature entitled “O.B.N.” Longtime readers understand this to be the Order of the Brown Nose, an honor given to the most outlandishly, hilariously sycophantic punditry of the moment. If Private Eye were a U.S. publication, its O.B.N. feature would have to be expanded to sprawl across several pages as it considers the media’s bulk delivery of valentines to the incoming administration.

Step forward, Eddie Glaude of MSNBC, who on Tuesday night compared Joe Biden to the Lord and said his ascension would comfort the dead: “President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Harris pulled the grief and regret out of the privacy of our hearts,” he said. “I’m reminded of the Psalmist, you know? ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ Maybe the dead will speak to us now. Maybe they can rest now.”

Close competition came from CNN’s David Chalian: “I mean, those lights that are, that are, just shooting out from the Lincoln Memorial, uh, along the reflecting pool, it’s like almost extensions of Joe Biden’s arms embracing America.” John Harwood of CNBC didn’t wait for Joe Biden to be sworn in before informing us that his presidency would surely go beautifully, observing the morning of January 20 in a tweet that the transition from Donald Trump to Biden meant a journey from “ignorance” to “knowledge,” from “amorality” (he meant “immorality”) to “decency,” from “corruption to “public service” (the Biden family members who have gotten rich selling their connections high-five each other) and from “lies” to “truth.” Hours later, a Biden official hiding under a cloak of anonymity falsely stated that the Trump administration never developed a national vaccination plan and printed it as the truth shortly before Anthony Fauci clarified that there certainly was a vaccination plan and noted that many millions had been given their shots under it.

Assessing Biden’s unremarkable inaugural speech, Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC mislabeled it “astonishing,” which is like calling Scranton a megalopolis. “The unity Joe Biden was talking about was both poetic and realistic at the same time,” O’Donnell claimed. “What he did in about 21 minutes was absolutely astonishing under these incredibly challenging circumstances.” Meanwhile, former Democratic campaign operative George Stephanopoulos of ABC News said the address contained “echoes of Lincoln,” and Major Garrett of CBS News said the famously undisciplined speaker sounded “like a priest explaining something from the Bible or something.”

Many commentators rediscovered a notion, dormant for the last four years, that the president is ex officio the nation’s father, leaving implied the corollary that America is a family, the directives of whose National Dad we all must follow. Which doesn’t sound like America at all, unless we’re talking about South America. In the Seventies. Byron Pitts, ABC’s national correspondent, said, “I thought from Joe Biden today, certainly he was commander in chief, but he was also papa-in-chief. He gave a speech to comfort the nation.” Surely Biden is more like the nation’s great-grandfather: As of last August, he was older than 96 percent of those alive today, and when he joined the Senate, six of his colleagues had been born in the 1800s. A large majority of American presidents (27) died younger than Biden is now.

“It’s a majestic day . . . there’s a cleansing, there’s an air of cleansing about today,” said John King of CNN. That’s a fairly tone-deaf thing to say about a nation in the grip of a pandemic that suffered a greater loss of life to COVID on Inauguration Day (4,448) than it did to terrorists on 9/11, but at least King didn’t go into outright fan fiction as the Daily Beast recently did with (I’m not making this up) a subheadline reading “Pet psychic Beth Lee-Crowther says Joe Biden’s dogs, Major and Champ, told her they are excited to live in the White House. They also say their master will be a ‘great president.’” Why is that last bit in quotation marks? Can we see a transcript? Crowther based her comments on looking at a photo of the dogs from her home in England. So she didn’t even interview them?

An intoxicating day for the media, it seems. But the next day the hangover appeared: “Media trust hits new low,” ran a grim report on Axios. For the first time in the history of polling on the question, fewer than half of Americans trust the major media. Most Americans (56 percent) have finally grokked something that is obviously true: that “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” while nearly three-fifths (58 percent) have noticed the equally obvious reason and agree that “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.” The media have taken up the cause of fighting “misinformation” as their sworn duty, but their problem is a lack of standing to call out untruths. As one observer quoted by Axios put it, “We don’t have a misinformation problem. We have a trust problem.”

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