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Opinion | Who needs a conspiracy with all this reporting on Biden?

Opinion | Who needs a conspiracy with all this reporting on Biden?

In the 20 years I’ve written right-wing columns for mainstream publications, I’ve consistently made two arguments. First, I’ve tried to convince my fellow journalists that liberal media bias actually exists. And second, I’ve tried to convince conservatives that while it’s a real conspiracy, it’s not the conspiracy they imagine.

This is a difficult moment to mention this last point. Frankly, if we had We conspired to cover up the downfall of a Democratic president who then undid all our efforts by going on national television and breaking the story himself…well, how much different would our coverage have been? And if he hadn’t immolated himself at the debate, wouldn’t our readers still be in the dark?

That means it is really was not a conspiracy. For one thing, the mainstream media reported on the president’s age, albeit too gently. Why were we so gentle? Well, there is a broad journalistic norm that prohibits making fun of physical features (which is why even certified Donald Trump-hating columnists have made remarkably few jokes about his toupee haircut).

Obviously, it was a mistake to treat age, which affects job performance, the same way that hairstyle does not. But that mistake was bipartisan—over the years, I’ve heard many people talk about Trump’s senior moments without ever putting those thoughts on paper.

Had Trump’s decline been as visible and public as President Biden’s, we might have covered it more aggressively. But there was a paradox: The reporters who watched him most closely noticed tiny, incremental changes without necessarily noticing the cumulative magnitude of the decline, as did the people who rarely tuned in. Moreover, Biden’s White House was simply more adept at distracting journalists who did notice: masters at killing stories with kindness and punishing reporters who wrote things they didn’t like.

I’m told that when journalists started asking about Biden’s age, they suddenly got access to normally unreachable senior aides to deny the statements, and then were inundated by allies insisting that he was privately at the peak of his career. It was really hard to know how to reconcile these statements with reports of possibly isolated oversights.

“But the videos!” my conservative readers stammer, and that’s fine—but video clips can be misleading if you don’t know the context. (Remember the Covington Catholic fiasco?) The White House made it hard to understand that context; aides rarely leaked information, and few people outside Biden’s inner circle saw him often enough to get a full picture of his condition. The inner circle, meanwhile, is dominated by people who have worked with the president for years.

Some incredibly persistent reporters persisted anyway. But they were not rewarded because there seemed to be no audience for reporting on Biden. Articles went unread and Biden books didn’t sell.

Not good enough, I hear my conservative readers say. OK, the White House made it hard to get the story – but if Trump were president, reporters would have been more skeptical of White House manipulation and more motivated to break the wall of silence to meet the audience’s demands. And to that, all I can say is: Yes, you’re right.

The media’s treatment of Biden was not a conspiracy to protect a Democratic president, but it looks like one because that is exactly what it did. None of our decisions were motivated solely by partisan politics. But if we are honest, many of them were unduly influenced by it.

Because there are ten times as many Democrats as Republicans in mainstream newsrooms, journalists—with some honorable exceptions—were inclined to give a Democratic administration trust it did not deserve. The president’s invisibility was a huge red flag; they saw it as a restful break from having to listen to Trump’s ramblings 24/7. As Biden’s decline became more and more apparent, people continued to respectfully spread the administration’s insultingly implausible claims: that there was a secretly brilliant president who scurried around the back rooms of the White House like Batman, while videos of the same president acting confused on the world stage were “cheap fakes.”

And when journalists did cover the issue, many outlets that had previously relentlessly covered Trump’s mistakes apparently couldn’t bring themselves to speak so bluntly about a president they liked – in part because it would have infuriated their friends and the White House. Many articles about Biden’s age ended up in such vague language, full of “questions” and “concerns” wrapped so defensively in ambiguous contexts that the necessary SOS didn’t get through.

As a result, Fox News viewers understood the president’s condition better than our audience, which should be a huge wake-up call for us. We don’t have exactly the problem conservatives imagine, but we do have a problem. And the only way to solve it is to add more diversity of perspectives to our newsrooms.

We should do this not for the benefit of conservative journalists or politicians, but for the benefit of our readers. When our newsrooms support one party, our readers miss much of the story—in this case, almost all of it. We need conservatives inside the building to help us overcome our natural biases, not outside complaining about them. We owe our readers and our country nothing less.