July 9, 2024

Just a couple of weeks ago, right after the first presidential debate, “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough was asking if President Joe Biden should step away from running for president.

On Monday, Biden phoned in to “Morning Joe” and gave a defiant response to all those who are urging him not to run.

“I am not going anywhere,” Biden said. “And I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t absolutely believe that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump in 2024.”

Biden was just getting warmed up. He said at one point, “I’m getting so frustrated by the elites. No, I’m not talking about you guys, but by the elites in the party who, ‘Oh, they know so much more.’ Any of these guys that don’t think I should run, run against me. Announce for president, challenge me at the convention.”

Apparently, Biden’s interview was a surprise. He was not previously scheduled to go on “Morning Joe,” and it was a phoner — meaning Biden was not on camera.

Politico’s Isabella Ramirez and Myah Ward wrote, “The surprise appearance is part of an effort from the Biden campaign to combat growing calls from party leaders that the president withdraw his candidacy. It followed a weekend of campaign travel and Biden’s interview with ABC News on Friday. The president will also be under a microscope this week, with the NATO summit in Washington, a Thursday news conference and more campaign travel at the end of the week.”

Biden certainly showed some fire during the “Morning Joe” interview, raising his voice at times and dismissing his debate performance. He admitted he had a bad night, but said, “Look at my career. I have not had many of those nights.”

At the start, “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski called Biden the “presumptive Democratic nominee,” to which Biden said. “I’m more than the presumptive, I’m going to be the Democratic nominee.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman put it well: “As angry Democrats pile criticism on President Biden, he has a message: He’s angry too.”

Besides going on MSNBC, Biden also sent a letter to Democratic lawmakers in Washington, tweeting, “It’s time to come together, move forward as a unified party, and defeat Donald Trump.”

But it remains to be seen if the party can unite behind Biden. At this time, it appears split, at best, about whether or not he should run.

The “Morning Joe” interview also may have hinted at Biden’s strategy moving forward: trying to put the debate and questions about his age and abilities behind him, while going on the attack against Trump.

Biden said, “He’s just a liar and he hasn’t done a damn thing since the debate. He’s been riding around in the golf cart for 10 days. He was down at Mar-a-Lago talking with his wealthy friends.”

Biden also said, “I beat him last time. I’ll beat him this time.”

Sign of the Times

Last week, former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson passed along her thoughts for Semafor’s media newsletter, saying some of the best news reporters in Washington failed to hold power accountable by not fully reporting on Biden.

Abramson, who was the top editor at the Times from 2011 to 2014, said, “The Biden White House clearly succeeded in a massive cover-up of the degree of the President’s feebleness and his serious physical decline, which may be simply the result of old age. Shame on the White House press corps for not to have pierced the veil of secrecy surrounding the President.”

Abramson admitted it is a tough story to crack. “But,” she continued, “I do think if enough reporters had pushed, the story was reportable. I worry that too many journalists didn’t try to get the story because they did not want to be accused of helping elect Donald Trump. I get that. But this is no excuse for abandoning our first duty, which is to report the truth and hold power accountable. President Biden should be held accountable for his obvious lapses of mental acuity, even if there are periods of lucidity.”

Hmm, interesting. It seems as if most of the top journalists in Washington politics are bulldogs who aren’t concerned with criticism borne from their reporting.

In an interview with The Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, current New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn said it wasn’t just Abramson’s comments, but a general narrative about the media’s coverage of Biden that just isn’t true.

Kahn told Wemple, “For any, frankly, even occasional reader of the New York Times to make an assessment of our coverage as having not prepared readers for this moment or having failed to look into the issue of Biden and his age — it’s very clear to me, I think it’s very clear to our readers that we have been persistently raising this issue, exploring this issue, reporting on this issue — and of fact-based analysis of Biden’s performance in office, as well as voter sentiment around the issue, has been one of the key themes of our coverage of the president himself and the campaign for years now. So it did not strike me as being a correct analysis in any way.”

Although there were serious questions about sourcing because the prominent quotes were from Republicans, The Wall Street Journal’s Annie Linskey and Siobhan Hughes had a story in early June that said Biden had shown “signs of slipping.”

Biden’s age has long been in question, so it’s unfair to suggest it hasn’t been a story. But it probably is fair to say that most people were stunned by Biden’s weak performance in the debate.

Kahn, however, told Wemple that he is proud of how the Times has covered the story.

“Now,” Kahn continued, “does that mean that we solved — the New York Times solved — the problem of Biden’s age? It’s not for us to solve it. What’s on us is to keep our regular readers as well informed as possible about an issue that would be part of their consideration about who to vote for, how to vote, in 2024. And we put that issue regularly in front of readers. Now, whether readers decide to take that information and make a different decision about their vote is up to them. It’s not up to us. We also covered many other issues about Biden’s agenda, some of which people may conclude overwhelm their concerns about his age. But our job is to keep them informed. And in this case, we did.”

By the way, there is much more to the Wemple-Kahn conversation, so I encourage you to check it out. It’s a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at media coverage.

Doing the right thing

Not all reporters are able to separate their personal politics from their work. But it’s admirable, as well as the right thing to do, when they recognize their conflicts and do something about it.

Take well-respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Preston, who announced this week that she is stepping away as a contributing writer at The Marshall Project, the nonprofit newsroom that covers criminal justice.

In a memo to her colleagues on Monday, Preston wrote, “After the events of recent days, I don’t feel I can continue to abide by TMP’s ethical guidelines instructing journalists to refrain from public partisan political action. I believe Donald Trump is an existential threat to our democracy and our right to practice journalism freely. I feel strongly that President Biden should withdraw from the race. In particular, I was offended by the President’s failure in the June 27 debate to rise to the defense of immigrants, in the face of the onslaught of falsehoods from Trump. I’ve been writing about immigrants for the better part of two decades. I’ve seen the dynamism they bring to our country, and the devastation that disastrously broken immigration and border systems can wreak on their families. They deserve better from our leaders.”

Now here’s the important part. In her note to colleagues, Preston wrote that she has no issue with The Marshall Project’s guidelines.

She wrote, “To be clear, I believe the guidelines are correct, and fundamental to the independent, clear-eyed fact-finding journalism that you all practice so well, which has distinguished The Marshall Project over many competitors. Throughout my career, I’ve done my very best to observe such guidelines at various publications, to avoid any partisan expression. I urge you all to continue to observe them as well. This is just the right move for me at this stage.”

Preston, 73, covered immigration at The New York Times and was a part of the team that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for coverage of the impact of drug corruption in Mexico. Before the Times, she worked at The Washington Post. Preston has been a contributing writer at The Marshall Project since 2017.

On Monday, I spoke with Preston, who reiterated that she believes The Marshall Project’s guidelines for nonpartisan journalism are correct.

“I believe in that kind of journalism,” Preston told me. “I believe in the discipline of that kind of journalism, and I have done my very best to practice that kind of journalism.”

Preston said the debate “changed my thinking about what I need to be doing now. And I feel that I want to be active as a voter. I’m a Democrat. I want to call my senator. I want to call my congressperson. I want to be active as a voter and Democrat after that debate.”

Preston realizes there is no going back to traditional journalism, adding it was “not an easy” decision. But, she did it also out of respect for her now former colleagues.

“I don’t want any partisan activity on my part to give a false or incorrect impression about the work that they do,” Preston said. “They are really committed to a practice of journalism which I believe is correct. You have to set aside your personal, political beliefs and see the facts with clear eyes. I’ve tried to do that throughout my career. At this moment, I don’t feel that I can refrain from my public role as a voter any longer.”

Preston isn’t done working. She said she is planning a book and audio project about undocumented youth known as Dreamers.

Moving forward

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Washington Post has been through quite a lot lately. There’s all the controversy surrounding new publisher Will Lewis. Executive editor Sally Buzbee abruptly left. The person (Robert Winnett) who was supposed to replace Buzzbee quit before he even started. And there are still questions regarding Lewis and his role in the British tabloid phone hacking scandal.

Almost forgotten in all of this is the Post’s plans to build a third newsroom, which Lewis described back in early June as one that would consist of “service and social media journalism and run separately from the core news operation. The aim is to give the millions of Americans — who feel traditional news is not for them but still want to be kept informed — compelling, exciting and accurate news where they are and in the style that they want.”

Now the Post has someone to help get that project off the ground. Post interim executive editor Matt Murray announced Monday that Krissah Thompson, a managing editor and 20-year veteran of the Post, will “run the newsroom process building the third newsroom.”

Murray wrote that Thompson will temporarily step back from most of her present daily duties at the Post to take on the new project.

There still aren’t a whole lot of details, at least publicly, about what this third newsroom is and how it will work. In his memo, Murray wrote, “The main focus of the project is properly structuring ourselves for a rapidly and regularly changing news ecosystem. While bolstering and growing the core Post products and expanding our reach, we aim to concentrate some of our journalistic resources, as well as our substantial expertise and brainpower, toward developing new products and formats, and deepening our capabilities, that will bring our journalism to different audiences, especially off-platform users who consume Washington Post journalism but are less likely to subscribe for our traditional offerings.”

Again, not really any specifics about the plan.

About Thompson, Murray wrote, “Krissah … is uniquely qualified to shepherd us. You all know her substantial leadership skills and the influence she has across the newsroom. A consistent theme in her career has been embracing innovation and seeking new ways to connect with readers that bring others along.”

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Correction, July 9, 9:29 a.m. Eastern: Jill Abramson was the top editor at the Times from 2011 to 2014.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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