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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

President Joe Biden

Photo by The White House

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

It was the kerfuffle that fizzled.

Anxious for some tension to jolt the No Drama Biden era, and missing the nonstop, frantic news cycles of the Trump years, the Beltway media just spent a week in hyperventilation mode. In the end, the story they desperately wanted to push — bipartisan negotiations for the proposed infrastructure bill were unraveling thanks to a Biden "blunder" — went nowhere, and the press once again revealed how it chases over-hyped Democratic White House controversy instead of straight news.

The overheated media excitement for a ho-hum story was the latest proof that the press, five months into Biden's term, is still struggling to adjust from the Trump era tumult. With clicks and views down this year and more news consumers embracing the return to news cycle 'normalcy' under Biden's steady, non-psychotic hand, reporters, editors, and producers are leaning into any attempt to create headlines and conflict.

It also marks the return to process journalism, which Beltway reporters love, as they focus on the theatrics of lawmaking, often at the expense of the substance.

For the infrastructure story, the Washington Post excitedly announced that Biden "flubbed" the "rocky rollout" of the preliminary bipartisan deal that had been struck in the Senate when he said he wouldn't sign it unless a simultaneous and larger bill favored by Democrats didn't land on his desk. "If they don't come, I'm not signing," Biden said. "Real simple."

Republicans immediately launched into outrage mode, insisting the president had blind-sided them with a new demand. (Fact: He had discussed it for months.) And when the GOP goes into outrage mode, the press quickly falls in line, loudly amplifying the claims of foul play, along with lots of coverage about how Biden supposedly messed up the Democrat's legislative agenda.

"White House Scrambles to Manage Fallout of Biden's 'Tandem' Remarks" Politico announced. Bloomberg dubbed it his "blunder," followed by this from Financial Times: "Biden Seeks Support for Infrastructure Deal After Bungled Rollout." At CNN, they breathlessly claimed Biden's comments had set off a "48-hours chaos" cycle inside the Beltway, and "exposed Biden's continued ability to throw his agenda for a loop with a few misplaced words." (Gaffes!)

What's actually in the infrastructure bill? That was of less interest to most news outlets, as they myopically focused on the process and would-be horse trading that was underway on Capitol Hill. That included insomnia-inducing bouts of process questions during White House press briefings, as reporters asked the same question over and over about Biden's comment and whether he'd sign the bipartisan bill without the Democratic one.

All of it was driven by Republican posturing and the mainstream media's public assumption that they were acting as honest brokers. "The tantrum clearly wasn't rooted in good faith," noted MSNBC's Steve Benen. "And yet, much of the political world went along with the theatrics anyway, as if there was some degree of sincerity in Republican complaints about Biden and Democratic leaders having gone too far."

Added the Post's Jennifer Rubin: "The Republicans routinely play the mainstream media, which indulges them by creating controversy. "Biden may have blown it" banter filled the cable TV shows. Instead of closely examining whether Republicans' outburst was illogical, and pointing out that any threats were empty, they ran with the story for days."

It was hard to watch the cringe-worthy coverage and not think a lot of it was driven by a media desire to gin up controversy for an extremely uncontroversial president. With the nation no longer locked into Trump news cycles that horrified millions of voters, demanded attention, and sparked genuine outrage, there's a temptation now to widely overplay middling stories.

On Wednesday Reuters hyped the results of its latest presidential polling and presented the results as sweepingly bad for Biden. "Support For Biden Erodes Among Democrats," read the headline. Yet the piece noted that Biden today is nearly 20 points more popular than Trump was at this juncture of his presidency. That's one of the biggest polling jumps in modern American history.

This approach to Biden coverage isn't new. Back in May, the press pushed the strange narrative that the Biden White House was being overrun by "a flurry of crises" that threatened to stymie the new, popular president. The administration was "struggling to find a clear narrative." "Multiple Crises at Home and Abroad Provide a Reality Check for Biden's White House," a CNN headline declared, while NBC's Meet the Press announced, "Biden Battles New Crises as Honeymoon Fades." And from The Hill: "The Imminent Crises Facing Joe Biden."

But journalists often strained themselves trying to construct the new narrative. In an effort to paint the picture of mounting "crises," several pointed to the already-fixed Colonial Pipeline shutdown from the previous week as proof Biden was facing "new" calamities.

This followed a silly March media outburst of gotcha stories: Biden travels during the pandemic! Biden rides an expensive exercise bike! Biden wears a Rolex! Biden hasn't given a press conference! Biden hasn't credited Trump for the vaccine! Biden hasn't "united" the nation!

Not only were the attacks dopey, but they lacked all context. Biden's predecessor waged war on free and fair elections during his final months in office and inspired a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. Yet the press spent days treating a stray, misdirected Biden sentence regarding infrastructure negotiations as "chaos"?

The press really struggles with the new drama-free White House.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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