Andrew Stiles • September 2, 2021 1:15 pm
American journalists love to honor themselves with catchy slogans—”Democracy dies in darkness,” for example—yet they have blatantly refused to cover President Joe Biden’s abdication of long-cherished political norms, which could imperil the foundation of our democracy if left unchecked.
Major U.S. media organizations have largely declined to report on Biden’s imperfect call with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani on July 23, the contents of which were published earlier this week by the British news agency Reuters. According to a transcript of the call, Biden repeatedly pressured Ghani to “project a different picture” of the unfolding disaster in Afghanistan “whether it is true or not” in order to “change [the] perception” that a Taliban takeover was imminent.
As if taking their cues from White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who repeatedly declined to comment on “private, diplomatic conversations or leaked transcripts of phone calls,” few news organizations have bothered to cover the norm-defying call, during which Biden hinted that U.S. financial and military assistance could be contingent on Ghani holding a press conference to mislead the world about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. The call was leaked by an anonymous source who was not authorized to distribute it.
Former president Donald Trump was impeached for a similar incident involving the president of Ukraine, which was covered extensively in the press. Yet neither the New York Times (“All the news that’s fit to print”) nor the Washington Post (“Democracy dies in darkness”) has published reports on Biden’s explosive phone call. Whatever the reason, it is not because the papers haven’t been covering the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Times, for example, recently published a “news analysis” about how Republican lawmakers are hypocrites for criticizing Biden’s handling of the pullout, and a report on the Taliban’s struggle to form the “inclusive” government its leaders promised. Over on the opinion page, columnist Ezra Klein explained his reading habits, and guest columnist Lyman Stone argued that “the minimum voting age should be zero.”
The Post, meanwhile, published a “fact check” on the number of Americans and Afghan allies evacuated from the country. In almost every instance, the information about the evacuation, dutifully regurgitated by the Post‘s lead fact checker, Glenn Kessler, was provided by the Biden administration. In other words, the “fact check” is indistinguishable from a White House press release, as was the latest column from Jennifer Rubin: “It wasn’t the State Department’s fault.”
News networks have been similarly averse to covering the potentially impeachable call and have been exceedingly desperate to change the subject from Afghanistan. CNN, for example, has provided extensive coverage of podcast host Joe Rogan’s COVID-19 diagnosis, and the fact that it rained in New York City, which could be connected to climate change.
Some CNN personalities, however, did address the situation in Afghanistan. Host Don Lemon, for example, urged the American people to “stop beating up on the [Biden] administration” for leaving U.S. citizens and Afghan allies behind in Afghanistan. “We don’t know if we left them behind yet,” Lemon huffed. “We don’t know yet.” (Fact check: Even the Biden administration admits it left a lot of people behind.)
Other news networks have ignored Biden’s effort to pressure the Afghan president by focusing on other issues, such as the congressional commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6, 2021, the Supreme Court’s refusal to overturn a Texas abortion law, as well as the “apocalyptic” rain in New York City, where a significant number of journalists live.
Most media organizations seem content to embrace Biden’s own assessment of the Afghanistan withdrawal as an “extraordinary success” that went exactly “as designed,” except for all of the unexpected failures caused by Trump and the cowardice of the Afghan people, who didn’t put up a fight against the Taliban and wouldn’t even hold a press conference to change that “perception.”
The media’s refusal to cover Biden’s attempted abuse of power could give the administration cover to hunt down and punish the individual who courageously exposed the information out of devotion to the U.S. Constitution. At the very least, it signifies a break from the media’s Trump-era policy of covering unauthorized leaks as the work of noble patriots who risked their lives to tell the truth.