Most of President Joe Biden’s historic foreign policy speech given over the weekend was washed away by the press. For days, journalists fixated not on how the Poland address marked a fundamental change in the West’s relationship with Russia, but on a nine-word ad-lib that Biden added to the text, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” in reference to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Journalists rushed in to claim the “gaffe” had produced “shock waves” around the world. (It did not.)
Swinging into theater criticism mode and searching for a conflict narrative, the press obsessed over the semantics story, portraying Biden as “undisciplined” and creating a monster “distraction” — an “unforced error” — as the war in Ukraine drags on.
Biden doubled down, saying that he was expressing his “moral outrage” over the mass killing that Putin had unleashed. He confirmed his comment came from the heart and did not represent a policy change for the U.S., which is not trying to change the regime in Moscow.
Still, journalists refused to drop the weird gotcha coverage. They hit Biden on Monday with 14 separate questions at a press briefing (“It sounded like you were calling for regime change in Russia”), pretending the story was still shrouded in confusion. Meanwhile, the press didn’t ask a single question about the state of the Ukraine war.
The media theatrics were especially galling since the previous president spent four years struggling to string together coherent sentences, garbling his way through a presidency.
Famous for being a habitual liar, as well as boasting often impossible-to-follow syntax that left people scratching their heads trying to make sense of his oddball pronouncements, Trump obliterated the idea that an occasional gaffe ought to define a politician, and the press stopped caring about his nonstop missteps. (To this day, Trump thinks "stealth" fighter planes are invisible to the human eye.)
Biden’s nine-word comment about Putin? That was Katie bar the door for the media — “gaffe” was mentioned on cable news over 100 times with regards to the Biden-Putin story, according to TVeyes.
It certainly appears the breathless pursuit of “gaffes” is a sport the press plays only with Democrats. “You will notice that the use of "gaffe" almost disappeared during Trump's term as president because most of what he said was a gaffe— or would have been under a previous president,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen.
That, despite the fact Trump once called Apple CEO Tim Cook Tim Apple, referred to 9/11 as 7/11, claimed noise from windmills causes cancer, and told a crowd that “the kidney has a very special place in the heart.”
Trump spent years slurring his words and rambling like a madman. That look-away media coverage continues today. Over the same weekend that Biden was undressed by the media for his get-tough Putin ad-lib, Trump praised the Russian dictator. The D.C. “gaffe” police though, wrote no tickets in response.
How many news articles and television reports did you see in 2020 about Trump "gaffes" and how they might stand in the way of his re-election bid? Probably the same number as I did, which was basically zero. Even though Trump was urging people to inject bleach into their veins.
To this credit, CNN’s Don Lemon this week, while reporting from Ukraine, pushed back on the Beltway media’s pointless “gaff” pursuit. “Quite honestly, I think this is a media manufactured story,” he stressed, dismissing the idea that Biden had endorsed the idea of removing Putin from power:
I think that we need to take a step back and stop trying to make it into something that it is not. It is important I think that the -- this is what people want to hear from the president. This is the stance that the people of America, especially the people of Ukraine, want the leader of the free world to have, to be strong. And to say exactly what Vladimir Putin should not be doing.
The press for years has been overly interested in Biden “gaffe” coverage. The president famously grew up with a severe stutter, which he overcame but sometimes finds himself at a temporary loss for words. The press likes to lean into that to generate news, and especially during the 2020 campaign. One Hill headline read, “Do Biden's Gaffes Make Him Unelectable?” Mediaite labeled it an "insane gaffe" when Biden at a rally mistakenly referred to Super Tuesday as Super Thursday, before quickly catching his mistake. That doesn't seem "insane."
Around the same time, Vanity Fair was wringing its hands over the Democrat’s miscues: “The rake-stepping won’t stop, and the attacks won’t go away, raising the question of whether there will come a tipping point for Biden.”
Biden ended up getting more votes for president than any candidate in U.S. history, confirming that voters don’t care about Democratic “gaffes.”