October 21, 2015
Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill and President Barack Obama, announces that he will not run for the presidential nomination. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill and President Barack Obama, announces that he will not run for the presidential nomination. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Joe Biden ran out of time. The cable news networks clearly did not.

They all offered live coverage of Biden’s non-campaign campaign speech in the Rose Garden Wednesday where stood next to his wife and President Obama and said he no longer had the time to mount a possible run for the Democratic nomination.

The political media had been at various times — especially when suffering rare bouts of Donald Trump Fatigue — convulsed with whether or not he would run. As recently as Tuesday evening, there was punditry that he would, based on seemingly coy remarks by Biden at a Washington dinner attended by former President Jimmy Carter and his vice president, Walter Mondale.

In the brief run-up to covering his White House statement on Wednesday morning, there were some savvy observers, like MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who knew something just didn’t fit. If you were announcing for president, why would you do it there? It simply would not be appropriate to be doing it in the Rose Garden, given the de facto imprimatur of President Obama that would give a Biden campaign.

As he announced, the networks were on a well-honed cruise control, with their big and splashy pro forma graphics (“VP JOE BIDEN NOT RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT”), crawls of unrelated news (about the Kardashians, Lamar Odom, a Toyota recall, the baseball playoffs) and the time tucked in the corner. Experts were beckoned, some via phone.

No surprise, the most high-octane initial response came from Fox News, where there was a theme of White House skullduggery, even outright criminality regarding the 2011 terrorist raid on the Benghazi, Libya compound that killed four Americans and now has improbably morphed into controversy over then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Andrea Tantaros, a co-host of “Outnumbered,” a female-dominated chat show on Fox News Channel, said simply that the White House is “circling the wagons…They’re all singing on the same song sheet because they’re all in on this…She (Clinton) is not an outlier. This is the modus operandi of the whole bunch.”

There was her clear intimation of the FBI being “in the tank” when it came to investigating Clinton misdeeds. Biden was part of it. So were Obama and Clinton. They knew about the private email server. They had all broken the law.

Amid that screechy, overheated harrumphing, Fox stalwart Chris Wallace had to offer some needed leavening, even sanity. Let’s see what comes at the hearing, he said. “I believe in the system,” a declaration clearly at odds with the thrust of Tantaros’ right wing hack’s analysis.

No surprise CNN and MSNBC were more even-handed, even if so clearly sympathetic to Biden. There was much talk of his anguishing over a difficult decision, his desire to run and his love of country. Some of that itself was leavened, in this case by talk of his having simply been outmaneuvered by Clinton.

There was, too, mention of how some of Biden’s Rose Garden comments were possible amid an “announcement speech without a candidate,” as CNN’s Gloria Borger put it.

On MSNBC, Brian Williams, now segregated in the role of the new breaking news host on the cable channel, was characteristically in control and seamless with a variety of experts. Note to Rachel Maddow, who said she hadn’t realized Biden had notes until he picked the up off the rostrum at the end: In fact, he was reading from two flat screen TelePrompTers set up in front of him, according to the White House pool report.

Chris Matthews by phone opined that “people in Hillaryland” would not be happy with what some construed as shots taken at her during the announcement. But did it really matter?

Clinton seems to be “steamrolling her way” to the Democratic nomination, Maddow said, while CNN’s Jake Tapper noted how poorly he was faring in polling of a hypothetical run against her.

Meanwhile, ever-sober Wallace at Fox was underscoring another political and media reality: Once Clinton raises her hand and is sworn in to testify at Thursday’s Benghazi hearing, Biden’s announcement will be old news, swept up in the maw of cable’s voracious appetite for new news, be it “breaking,” “developing,” or whatever.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

More News

Back to News