By:
February 12, 2024

As last week came to a close, there was breathless media coverage of the special counsel report investigating whether or not President Joe Biden mishandled classified documents after leaving the vice presidency. Special prosecutor Robert K. Hur determined that Biden did not act inappropriately, but described Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” who had “diminished faculties in advancing age.”

That report came out last Thursday afternoon, and by Thursday evening, Biden gave an unexpected and angry press conference that pushed back against that narrative.

The topic came up on several of the Sunday morning news shows.

Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal lawyer, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the special prosecutor’s report “went off the rails. … A shabby work product.”

Alejandro Mayorkas, who serves as Biden’s homeland security secretary, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “The special counsel did this in the case, made a conclusion that there is no case — case closed — then made gratuitous, unnecessary and inaccurate personal remarks, and those are improper.”

Jen Psaki, the former press secretary for Biden and now a host of her own show on MSNBC, appeared on a “Meet the Press” roundtable and criticized the media for the coverage.

“If you’re sitting in the White House and on the campaign right now, you’re absolutely banging your head against the wall at the way that the Thursday report has been covered,” Psaki said. “Given all of the things that have happened this week, including … the fact that Donald Trump (Saturday) suggested that Vladimir Putin should have free rein in attacking NATO allies. And what do we see when we wake up this morning? Wall-to-wall coverage of whether a guy who’s four years older than his opponent is too old to be president.”

More from Psaki

MSNBC host Jen Psaki on her show Sunday. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

On her own show on MSNBC, Psaki talked more about the special prosecutor’s comments about Biden.

“I wasn’t aware that he was also a doctor, but he included this line, basically questioning the cognitive abilities of Joe Biden. And that has been the major focus of coverage about the Hur report. Now, I’m also not going to sit here and pretend that the president is a young sprite. He isn’t. He would tell you he’s not either. He’s 81 years old.”

Psaki continued, “It’s not a narrative. It’s a fact. And the constant questioning about his age is one of the biggest challenges that his campaign faces. They know that. But let’s not forget who 81-year-old Joe Biden is running against, 77-year-old, not a sprite, Donald Trump. Whoever you may wish was running, it is time to settle into the fact that there will be two baby boomers competing for the White House in November. That is what’s happening.”

The Trump comments

On “Meet the Press,” Psaki was referring to comments that Trump made Saturday night at a campaign rally in South Carolina.

“NATO was busted until I came along,” Trump told the crowd. “I said, ‘Everybody’s gonna pay.’ They said, ‘Well, if we don’t pay, are you still going to protect us?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They couldn’t believe the answer.”

Trump said a president from a “big country” asked him whether the United States would still defend them if they were invaded by Russia even if they “don’t pay.”

Trump told the crowd, “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”

Yes, you read that right. Trump said he would encourage Russia and President Vladimir Putin to do “whatever the hell they want.”

White House spokesman Andrew Bates called Trump’s comments “appalling and unhinged.”

Appearing on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie was asked by moderator Kristen Welker if Trump’s comments were a national security risk. Christie said, “What poses a national security risk is the possibility that he could be president of the United States again. That’s what poses a national security risk, because we need to take him at his word, Kristen. And the fact is that, as I’ve said earlier, you know, Donald Trump, when he came into office in 2016, was scared. He was afraid to be president. He was afraid of mistakes he would make. He knew he was not ready. And so as a result, he listened to a lot of very good people around him like General Mattis, General Kelly and others about these issues. In a second term, he would not.”

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said on Psaki’s MSNBC show, “Oh, Putin must be absolutely thrilled. If you look at it from Putin’s perspective, you know, the war isn’t going well in Ukraine for Russia. Russians keep coming back in body bags. NATO is enlarging around him with two new nations joining NATO. NATO is strengthening. And along comes Donald Trump there to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for Russia and for the United States and our NATO allies. It couldn’t come at a worse time. Trump’s Republican Party is holding up aid for Ukraine. Trump is the gift that won’t stop giving to Vladimir Putin. And, you know, he thinks, I’m sure, Donald Trump thinks this makes him sound strong, but it just makes him look like an incredibly weak leader. Weak in not bolstering our alliances, weak in undermining our security.”

Not surprisingly, some Trump supporters weren’t bothered by Trump’s head-shaking comments about Russia and NATO. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he has “zero concern” about Trump’s comments.

“He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician,” Rubio said. “And we have already been through this now. You would think people had figured it out by now.”

The importance of Sports Illustrated

“60 Minutes” correspondent and longtime Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim talked about SI for an essay on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

He admitted he couldn’t be objective, given that he has written for SI for 27 years. But his remarks were still on the mark. Check them out in full. He concluded with this:

“SI still means something — in the present, and hopefully, the future. This isn’t the Model T or Sony Walkman or throwback jersey that simply tickles the nostalgia pleasure centers. SI remains vital to the cultural conversation, especially as sports mean more than ever — cold, rational analysis to offset passionate hot takes, a media outlet whose partnership it with its audience, with sports fans. Not with the league it pays billions to cover. Super Bowl LIX will be held next year in New Orleans. You hope your team will be there. I hope mine will be there, too.”

Stewart returns

Jon Stewart, shown here last September. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Jon Stewart returns tonight as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Stewart, who hosted the show from 1999 to 2015, will host on Monday nights through the 2024 election. The Associated Press’ David Bauder has a good preview: “Jon Stewart changed late-night comedy once. Can he have a second act in different times?”

Bauder writes, “Comebacks are hard enough in an industry that doesn’t always reward second acts. Catching lightning again will be difficult — particularly at a time when late-night television is greatly diminished as a cultural force and others, some from Stewart’s family tree, are now competitors. It can be even tougher when, as Salon critic Melanie McFarland put it, the current Jon Stewart is forced to compete with memories of the old Jon Stewart.”

Super Bowl

When the early, overnight viewership numbers come out today, look for Sunday’s Super Bowl to be the most-watched Super Bowl of all time, breaking last year’s record of 115 million.

In Tuesday’s newsletter, I’ll follow up with some of the best and worst of the coverage and other leftover thoughts — which, surely, will include a little about Taylor Swift.

But three quick postgame thoughts on the broadcast.

  • The way CBS worked Taylor Swift shots into the broadcast was superb. They didn’t overdo it, but they also gave her the proper amount. She’s a huge star. Millions of viewers cared about her being at the game. Shots of her in the suite didn’t interrupt the actual game. Well done by CBS.
  • The game broadcast also was superb. Kudos to analyst Tony Romo. It has become almost a cliche to criticize Romo, but his work explaining, predicting and analyzing the game Sunday was top-notch.
  • The Nickelodeon-SpongeBob SquarePants broadcast was a hoot. Here’s their call of the winning touchdown.

I also did want to point out this piece from The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman: “Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a MAGA Meltdown.”

And, also, I especially enjoyed this tongue-firmly-implanted-in-cheek, fun column from Diane Roberts in the Tampa Bay Times: “MAGA isn’t falling for Taylor Swift’s wiles.”

Also, check out this epic Joe Biden tweet right after the game.

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