July 20th, 2024

A media ‘nervous breakdown’? Calls for Biden’s withdrawal produce some extraordinary moments

By David Bauder, The Associated Press on July 1, 2024.

FILE - President Joe Biden looks on at a campaign rally in Raleigh, N.C., June 28, 2024. If President Biden successfully resists some extraordinary calls in the media to abandon his reelection effort following last week's debate, he may reflect on the moment MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski looked into the camera Monday, July 1, to begin a 15-minute essay of support. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley, File)

NEW YORK (AP) – If President Joe Biden successfully resists some extraordinary calls in the media to abandon his reelection effort following last week’s debate, he may reflect on the moment that MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski looked into the camera Monday to begin a 15-minute essay of support.

The “Morning Joe” co-host denounced the “screaming, mocking, jeering” headlines and editorials suggesting Biden leave the campaign following several halting, confused passages by the president during his CNN debate with former President Donald Trump.

The New York Times editorial board urged Biden’s exit, along with some of the newspaper’s columnists. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution followed suit in a front-page editorial on Sunday. The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick wrote that “there is honor in recognizing the hard demands of the moment.” The Washington Post said it hoped Biden spent the weekend soul-searching.

“It has been a collective nervous breakdown like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Chris Whipple, author of “The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House.”

The “˜Morning Joe’ saga

Nowhere, perhaps, were raw nerves exposed quite like they’ve been on “Morning Joe,” where co-hosts Brzezinski and her husband, Joe Scarborough, have been among Biden’s most consistent supporters. With Biden reportedly a frequent viewer, there’s often a sense that the show’s guests are talking to the president, much like with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” when Trump was in office.

A funereal Scarborough suggested Friday that Biden consider abandoning the campaign, saying that “if he were CEO and he turned in a performance like that, would any Fortune 500 company keep him on?” It led to some awkward moments with his wife, like when Scarborough said she didn’t have to raise her voice when she resisted criticism on Biden.

Yet Scarborough was absent on Monday – on a planned vacation, his wife and network said – and Brzezinski opened the show on her own.

She conceded that Biden’s debate performance was terrible and blamed his staff for overworking him. Age brings wisdom, but the deleterious impacts need to be managed, she said. She listed how Biden had recovered from personal and political problems in the past.

“I still believe in Joe Biden,” she said. “I’ve learned that counting him out is always a mistake, and doing that right now would be catastrophic for the country.”

An occasional guest of the show, Mara Gay of the Times’ editorial board, was on to defend her newspaper’s stance, and Brzezinski took a swipe at those who concentrated more on Biden than Trump. “I don’t want to hear from editorial boards who have missed a massive story on the other side or have become inured to it,” she said.

Strong wording from across the news industry

The Times’ editorial, published Sunday, called Biden “the shadow of a great public servant.”

“The greatest public service that Mr. Biden can now perform is to announce that he will not continue to run for reelection,” the newspaper said.

Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that watching the Biden-Trump debate “made me weep.” Colleague Lydia Polgreen wrote that a Democratic ticket led by Vice President Kamala Harris “has a pretty nice ring to it.” And Maureen Dowd, who has an extensive history covering Biden, headlined her column, “The Ghastly vs. The Ghostly.”

If Biden continued the race, he’d be guilty of a Trump-like self-interest, she wrote. “He has age-related issues,” Dowd wrote, “and these only go in one direction.”

Whipple said he doesn’t expect opinion pieces in The Times would have much sway in the White House. The Biden campaign has been critical of the amount of space the newspaper has devoted to voter concerns about the president and his age.

“Nothing will make Joe Biden more determined to run for reelection than a New York Times editorial urging him to drop out,” Whipple said. “It is like oxygen for him.”

Biden thrives on being underestimated, he said. Biden, who once talked of being a transitional president, has been surprised at the way Trump and his movement have remained politically strong. The desire to stop him, along with a politician’s traditional instinct not to want to leave the stage, has fueled his campaign, Whipple said.

The author said Biden needs now to erase what The New Yorker’s Remnick wrote was the agonizing experience of watching him “wander into senselessness onstage.”

“It is bound to obliterate forever all those vague and qualified descriptions from White House insiders about good days and bad days,” Remnick wrote. “You watched it, and, on the most basic human level, you could only feel pity for the man and, more, fear for the country.”

The influential Georgia newspaper’s editorial headline was, “It’s Time for Biden to Pass the Torch.”

Yet in another swing state, Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Inquirer took another tack. Biden shouldn’t be the presidential candidate dropping out, the newspaper said in an editorial over the weekend.

“There was only one person at the debate who does not deserve to be running for president,” the Inquirer wrote. “The sooner Trump exits the stage, the better off the country will be.”

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David Bauder writes about media for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder.

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