In February of the Joe Biden presidency, cable news spent 1,836 minutes reviewing the President according to the Stanford Cable News Analyzer. In the first February of the Donald Trump presidency, the number was 4,669.
My concern isn’t so much the demand side, but the supply one. Throughout the Trump presidency journalists were horrified, fascinated, preoccupied and missing-in-action on many of the consequential policy issues facing America. We got The Trump Show, every day.
During Trump’s four years, a morning scan of news commentary on Real Clear Politics produced a binary result: anti and pro-Trump. There seemed to be no in-between. On policy, if it was anywhere near the White House, it was panned. Media that worked overtime to shame Fox News were parroting their approach.
I don’t think it is too severe to say that Trump co-opted journalism. Unlike Biden, he had an insatiable appetite to be the top of the news. He held more informal news conferences than former Presidents plus sat for interviews with commentators he must have known would be critical. Indeed, when he went into the hospital with Covid 19 he felt a need to start a parade alongside Walter Reed Hospital. And the journalists and commentators ate it up. Trump gave them Page 6 (New York Post celebrity gossip page) fodder every day.
I have not gone back to count the number of columns I wrote that related to Trump. I do know that from time-to-time I said, no more, only later to break my fleeting promise.
We are now in President Biden’s honeymoon period. A month ago much of the media was laudatory about the President’s intent to be bipartisan citing among other things his meeting for two hours with then GOP senators who were perceived to be willing to meet him halfway. Looking back that seems to have been a feint. Too bad.
And while I am throwing a bit of shade at those who cover the news I hope, probably against hope, that some attention is soon paid to fiscal integrity. I wrote a column a month ago; it was too detailed. It dealt with various deficits caused by runaway government spending and the value of the dollar. Now I’m just going to say that the opposite of fiscal integrity, yes I said integrity, is the weight given by both Donald Trump and apparently Joe Biden, to accumulating debt that will have to be paid by our children and grandchildren. This will not end well.
My guess is that much of today’s news consumption is Covid related. And that President Biden is given a pass because first he is not Trump and is consistent in his efforts at leading the country’s response. While the conclusions of public health experts should be scrutinized, they should not be politicized.
An inescapable Trump legacy is severe polarization. President Biden can help reverse the momentum. But he will have to go beyond being a decent human being.
Senator Joe Manchin, the keystone swing vote in the U S Senate, said that with modest compromises several Republicans would have joined in the Covid relief bill. If that is the case, it is unfortunate that President Biden did not insist in that outcome. There will not be a rebalancing of the emotional spectrum of politics without his leadership.
Final thought. Pope Francis, against advice, traveled to Iraq in a healing outreach. He is both older (by 6 years) than Biden and is, I would imagine, no less vulnerable and he went to the last place many thought he should go. Yes, I know he has been criticized for attracting crowds during a pandemic but risk-less leadership is not possible. I hope President Biden follows suit. Leave the White House. Travel to the hinterland. By all means, keep your mask on, but take it off before you speak. You are the leader of the USA.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.