Last year, I proposed the Trump Test, that is imagine your reaction if Trump was the President instead of Biden, and Trump was the one insulting reporters, tacitly granting permission for Russia to invade Ukraine, and claiming he was “outperforming” expectations in the midst of constant crises. The media had a term for this. They should start using it again now.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden was caught on camera calling Fox News Reporter Peter Doocy a “stupid son of a bitch” for asking a question about the impact of inflation on the mid-term elections. This isn’t the first time the President has lashed out at reporters this month, either. Last week, another Fox News Reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, asked him an important question on the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. “Why are you waiting on Putin to make the first move, sir?” She asked, wondering whether announcing sanctions before any planned invasion was a consideration. He muttered under his breath, “What a stupid question.” Nor were Fox News reporters the only focus of his ire. Real Clear Politics Philip Wegmann was also targeted for asking a question related to civility itself and the President’s own promises to change the tone. Mr. Wegmann wondered how the President reconciles calls to unify the country while comparing his opposition to Confederates and segregationists. “No, I didn’t say that,” President Biden snapped, despite saying precisely that in a speech that was positively received by the mainstream media. “That is an interesting reading of English. You — I assume you got into journalism because you liked to write,” he further insulted the reporter. Incredibly, the mainstream media responded by defending and making excuses for President Biden. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell said he just “does not like when questions are asked about a subject other than the planned event.” CNN’s Brian Stelter turned Biden into Clint Eastwood, saying he “deadpanned” the response.
Back when President Trump was in office, however, Mr. Stelter had a different take, saying “Calling a journalist a ‘son of bitch?’ It was wrong when Trump was just a candidate, and it’s even worse now.” Barely a year ago, shouting questions at the President was elevated to an artform in the media. The more in your face and provocative, the better, and if President Trump showed any signs of displeasure the media had a favorite word to describe his behavior: Unhinged. A quick search on Google for “trump unhinged” yields some 2,540,000 results across almost every mainstream media outlet and then some. The word was used so liberally over the last six and a half years it has lost all meaning. In their opinion, Trump’s individual statements were unhinged or perhaps entire press conferences, his behavior or maybe his entire administration, his position on issues like the fabricated Russia collusion caper, his multiple impeachments, or even personnel choices, anything and everything was described this way. The trend began before he was even in office. The New York Times opined on “Trump, Unshackled and Unhinged” in October 2016. Two years later they were wondering whether he was “Undaunted or Unhinged” after the 2018 midterm election. The Washington Post also reported on Trump’s “unhinged” letter to Nancy Pelosi and his “unhinged” display with reporters, proposing that he was acting “unhinged” because “that’s all he can do.” The same phrases were repeated by the New York Daily News, The New Yorker, and many more. It persists to this day with articles from major outlets through all of 2021.
It probably won’t surprise you that the same term hasn’t been applied to President Biden, even though lashing out at reporters might be the least of his problems. It seems clear to me that his recent temper is just the outward sign of an administration failing on almost every front, domestically and internationally. It’s difficult to know where to begin, but just last week he personally created an international incident by appearing to give Russian President Vladimir Putin tacit approval to interfere in the functioning of the sovereign government of Ukraine. First, the President predicted that Russia would in fact “move in” to Ukraine, even though he has been promising to do everything possible to prevent that earth-shattering occurrence. Then, he said, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do,” referring to disagreement among NATO members and other allies. Thus, in a single statement he informed Russia that his administration has failed to establish anything resembling a united front against Russian aggression in Ukraine, and that a “minor incursion” would likely incur no consequences. I’m hard pressed to identify another single sentence from a Commander in Chief that so thoroughly undermined our own objectives and ultimately our national security.
The Ukrainian President immediately responded. “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter. “Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.” The media barely acknowledged the disastrous comment at the time to the point where CNN claimed President Zelensky’s tweet was only an “apparent reference” to President Biden’s remarks. After, they went into damage control mode, reporting on how the Biden Administration tried to clean up the fiasco rather than the fiasco itself. NPR covered “How Biden is trying to clean up his comments about Russia,” Politico said “White House looks to clarify Biden’s ‘minor incursion’ comment.” Compare the response to a truly minor incident that occurred in May 2017, when then President Trump told Russian Ambassador Sergei Kslyak about a potential Islamic State plot to use laptop computers to damage aircraft. In his conversation with the Russian Ambassador, President Trump mentioned the city where the information originated. That was it, but it was enough to launch a thousand screaming headlines that Trump had “shared classified information with Russia.”
The Washington Post first broke the story, then NPR, Reuters, CNN, The New York Times, and others piled on. There is even a Wikipedia page on the incident, despite that nothing came of it. Even at the time, it wasn’t obvious that anything would come of it. The media’s concerns centered around whether or not the Russians could “reverse engineer” the sources and methods by knowing the city where the potential plot was discovered, which was always a dubious proposition at best. The members of the Trump Administration actually in the Oval Office for this conversation denied that any such thing had occurred in the first place. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said it was “false” almost immediately. “The president and foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation,” he said, adding, “At no time – at no time – were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” In a statement, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said something similar, “the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.” The Washington Post responded by claiming these direct refutations weren’t actually refutations, noting that they seem “to be saying that the thing that didn’t happen is something The Post never actually reported.” Their reporter added, “Our story says that the nature of the information provided would have allowed the Russians to ‘reverse engineer’ to discover the sources and methods. He said so much that they could figure it out.” Still, the story had such long legs that progressives on Twitter were mentioning it as recently as last week.
Now, however, President Biden reveals to Putin that our allies are in disarray and would likely be unable to respond to a “minor incursion,” two titanic admissions publicly made to a foreign adversary, and it’s treated as something that can easily be clarified. Pay no attention to what the President actually said, here’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken to give us the real story. Meanwhile, President Biden has been busy preparing for a Russian invasion, acting like he knows full well what his comments might have unleashed by ordering 8,500 troops to get ready for deployment in Europe. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that what “this is about is reassurance to our NATO allies,” but the State Department has also ordered the families of all diplomats to evacuate the embassy in Ukraine and is paying for non-essential personnel to go home. It gets better, or worse depending on your perspective: President Biden himself is back to insisting all is well with our allies, telling reporters just yesterday that he had an 80-minute call with European leaders, “I had a very, very, very good meeting — total unanimity with all the European leaders,” he told reporters at the White House. “We’ll talk about it later.” No one seems curious how the allies were in disarray last week, literally fighting about what to do, but now we have total “unanimity.”
Perhaps, we might give the President the benefit of the doubt if this were an isolated instance, where his rhetoric wasn’t matching reality and, dare I say it, he might seem “unhinged” from reality, but unfortunately it’s far from it. In matters large and small, the President is increasingly lashing out. Insulting reporters might seem a small thing, but this is a President who promised to change the tone, first and foremost. Who said specifically that anyone in his administration that was disrespectful would be fired on the spot. “I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot,” the President claimed last January. “On the spot. No if, ands, or buts.” Forget reporters and politicians, this is a President who also promised something different to the American people. At his inaugural address, he declared “To overcome these challenges –to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.” He continued, “We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”
Since then, the President has unleashed the exact opposite. He claims to treat Americans with respect while calling those against an unprecedented federal takeover of elections Confederates and segregationists. He advocates changes to long standing traditions like the filibuster. He has turned his Justice Department loose on parents concerned about their children’s education; indeed, his administration collaborated with the National School Boards Association for just that purpose. He targeted Americans concerned about the coronavirus vaccine and pushed plans that would see them fired for their beliefs, after calling the state of Texas Neanderthals. He’s lashing out at reporters for the temerity to ask basic questions, even when he is personally responsible for causing the confusion in the first place and possibly giving the greenlight for Russia to invade Ukraine. On top of it all, he claims he’s doing a great job, saying last week, “I didn’t overpromise. I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen.” If this isn’t unhinged, I don’t know what is, but don’t tell the media that. They’ve got the word reserved exclusively for Donald Trump.