The press is now leaning into the idea that the new Democratic administration is struggling to take shape, and that some kind of civil war has broken out inside the party.
December 19, 2020

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Did you know President-elect Joe Biden has badly "botched" his cabinet picks? That a criminal probe "hangs over" his presidency, "potential family conflicts" may be a problem, and that party "factionalism" is threatening to doom his work? As Biden's orderly transition unfolds on track — in stark contrast to the previous four years of discord and confusion — most Americans wouldn't think that Democrats are in disarray. Yet that remains the press' preferred, long-running narrative about how Democrats are in a constant state of confusion and forever outsmarted by Republicans.

It's jarring that after covering the Trump White House for four years, where incompetence and lies were the hallmark, where staff turnover never paused and Trump tore up his staffing chart because he didn't like what someone said on Fox News, that the press is now leaning into the idea that the new Democratic administration is struggling to take shape, and that some kind of civil war has broken out inside the party.

The coverage clearly represents a desire by some outlets to create news; to create controversy where none really exists with the incoming administration. Addicted to the adrenaline rush of non-stop news during the Trump years, as he ransacked the White House and obliterated norms, the press seems hungry to continue that same news cycle pace. But Biden, like No Drama Obama, won't cooperate in terms of generating screaming headlines on a daily basis.

Still, the press keeps trying. In the span of four days, the New York Times ran two big stories about supposed discord that's brewing within the Democratic Party over Biden's top picks for his administration. The president-elect is facing a "considerable challenge" while "confronting factionalism and fierce impatience." Alliances have been "strained," his choices are "vexing" "frustrated" and " increasingly skeptical" supporters. Biden has "irritated" Democratic lawmakers who are "complaining." There's "mounting angst" over the "ongoing tug of war." Biden is "hamstrung."

Oh my! So much disarray, right?

It turns out, some of that disarray has nothing to do with Democrats. "Mr. Biden’s selections of Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget and Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services have angered Republicans, who view them as overly partisan," the Times reported. Some Republicans don't like the new Democrat's cabinet picks. And that's supposed to be newsworthy, why?

The Washington Post recently ran a similar Dems in Disarray article about "dissatisfaction" and "discomforted" Democratic allies, which could "hobble" the news president. The piece focused on whether Biden is "relegating racial minorities to lower-status jobs." Yet as the Post noted in the Saturday article, "Of the 14 Cabinet-level picks announced so far, seven are women, and nine are people of color."

Is there behind-the-scenes jockeying going on as Biden makes his picks? Is there concern among allies that the new Democratic administration be properly diverse? Absolutely. And that's a news story that ought to be covered. But the press narrative so far badly overplays the doom and gloom aspect. The heavy handed coverage looks especially odd considering how professionally the Biden transition team is behaving, as well as how qualified and historic his picks are, compared to the chaos that engulfed the virtually all-white Trump White House on a daily basis, where it became almost impossible for reporters to get honest, truthful information from the administration.

During the transition the press is also taking very seriously the news that (surprise!) Trump's Department of Justice is investigating Hunter Biden's Ukraine business dealings. The White House, the entire GOP, and Fox News just spent the last twelve months trying to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden and completely whiffed. Spreading lies nonstop, they still couldn’t stop Trump from being impeached for having urged Ukraine to launch a bogus investigation into Biden’s son, and the Hunter 'scandal' went nowhere on the campaign trail this year, as Trump lost by seven million votes.

Nonetheless, the Associated Press stressed the Hunter news could make Biden's presidential transition "even more complicated." The revelation threatens, "to destabilize a transition that has prioritized a methodical rollout of Cabinet selections." Why? In part because the AP is already imagining a possible criminal "indictment" against Hunter even though, of course, nothing has been alleged against Biden's son. (An anti-Biden Senate Republican report this year couldn’t find any evidence of Hunter wrongdoing.)

Turns out the Hunter investigation will make life "even more complicated" for Biden because Republicans are going to harp on it a lot, according to the AP. That's it. That's the extent of the so-called scandal — Republicans are going to hype the investigation and the press is going to type that up as news.

The Times was singing from the same GOP-approved choir sheet, stressing that the optics look bad, not matter what. "If [Biden] refuses to appoint a special counsel and his Justice Department opts not to prosecute his son, many will invariably suspect favoritism," the Times reported, pretending the last four years never happened, and that being suspected of favoritism is now considered a deal breaker inside the Beltway.

And there was this extraordinary Times passage [emphasis added]:

Even if Hunter Biden is ultimately not found to have violated any laws, the investigation could be problematic for a new president promising a clean break from the many conflicts of interest under his predecessor.

Talk about heads you lose, tails you lose. Trump's politicized Justice Department is investigating Biden's son, but even if no wrongdoing is found it's all bad news for Biden.

This is the kind of pretzel logic the press embraces when it's searching for Dems in Disarray storylines.

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