Former Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is not only benefiting from a favorable electoral map, but also from favorable, biased coverage by the mainstream media.
This May, Biden angrily told a prominent Black radio host, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black!” In August 2019, he told a group of Iowa voters that “poor kids are just as bright as white kids.” As a senator from Delaware, he voted for a controversial crime bill, The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which the American Civil Liberties Union criticized as a key contributor to the perpetuation of mass incarceration. Biden also voted for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, a conflict that has lasted for 17 years and one that a 2018 Gallup poll found only 43% of Americans approve of. Biden’s campaign platform also promises to consider implementing unprecedented national restrictions to combat the coronavirus, as well as limiting fracking by “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.”
While Trump’s antics and his own controversial actions have led to well-deserved media criticism, it is obvious that Biden, a U.S. Senator of 36 years and a vice president of eight years, has a huge public record that ought to be scrutinized and debated as he runs for president.
2020 was never about Biden or the Democratic party. It is about Trump, the pandemic, and his response to it. Sadly, the consequence of this focus has resulted in the Biden-Harris campaign rarely facing questions on the solvency or constitutionality of their policies.
According to an October 2020 article by The Hill, at least 119 newspaper editorials endorsed Biden, while only 6 endorsed Trump. While being a left-leaning publication does not disqualify a publication from providing objective media coverage, it means that the American media establishment has essentially become an extension of the Biden-Harris campaign. If a media outlet endorses a campaign, then that outlet should not be trusted to report objectively, because it is in its interest to promote the candidate it endorses. When The New York Times and Washington Post endorsed the Biden-Harris campaign, they revealed themselves to be partisan advocates, not fair informants. The same article from The Hill cited Purdue University Communications Professor Jennifer Hoewe, who said, “Research has shown that newspaper endorsements are impactful, particularly if they come from an unexpected source.”
An August 2020 Gallup poll found 86% of Americans believe there is a “fair amount” of bias in news coverage. This conclusion is hardly surprising, as the media routinely derides positions it disagrees with. Glance at any major news outlet’s opinion section — or even news — and you find predictions that a Trump victory will crush democratic government, a claim that Trump’s America is hopelessly racist, a long analysis of a controversial Trump tweet, or a fact-check that claims the latest Biden gaffe is being taken out of context.
The language used by commentators in the mainstream media also suggests that the issues at hand are dogmatic moral positions, rather than debatable policies. This willful ignorance of the other side is reminiscent of the prisoners in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” In this allegory, chained prisoners were only able to see cave-fire illuminated shadows of objects. Only when a prisoner was able to leave behind his chains could he see the real object illuminated by the sun.
The mainstream media is the personification of the chains in Plato’s cave. The grand spectrum of politics is boiled down into two candidates who are clearly portrayed as representatives of good, Biden and the Democratic party, versus evil — Trump. Complicated issues are simplified as moral goods versus the tyrannical evils, actively anti-racist or complicit in racism, forced redistribution of income or against the poor and healthcare. The media’s simplistic framing of these issues, rather than courageously engaging in their complexities, creates a false image of moral and political goods. Regardless of where one stands on these issues, policy proposals and political philosophies of the candidates deserve to be debated on their merits, not accepted or dismissed because they do not fit a narrative.
The motto of the Washington Post is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Its words ring truer than ever because the Post, like many other outlets, appeals to the darkness of partisanship and a hypocritical application of righteousness against the right’s faults, while dismissing the faults of the left. Instead of educating people to arrive at their own decisions, the mainstream media and its keyboard crusaders mislead and imprison people in their own ignorance, fear, and biases.
The media’s coverage of the 2020 election bears a lot of the blame for our divisive politics, eroding liberties, and the shocking ignorance of the citizenry. Let us hope 2024 is different.
Thomas Curro is a sophomore studying politics.