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Dowdgate? Biden Insists Deathbed Scene With Son Beau Never Happened

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Dowdgate? Biden Insists Deathbed Scene With Son Beau Never Happened

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Not every day does the Vice President of the United States accuse America’s most respected newspaper of publishing a falsehood about him and his family. Over the weekend that is what Joe Biden alleged, posing a difficult problem for The New York Times.

Appearing on CBS 60 Minutes, Biden denied that the affecting deathbed scene between him and his older son Beau, as famously recounted by Times Op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd, had ever occurred. Dowd’s sensational August 1 column sparked a media conflagration, fired up the “draft Biden” movement, and the scene, not incidentally, was reported on the paper’s front page that same Sunday.

According to Dowd, Beau Biden on his deathbed “had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” But according to Joe Biden, it didn’t go down that way at all.

Asked by correspondent Norah O’Donnell about the conversations he had with Beau about running for president, he replied:

Well, first thing I’d like to do, and you’re being very polite the way you’re asking me the question because some people have written that, you know, Beau on his deathbed said, “Dad, you’ve got to run,” and, there was this sort of Hollywood moment that, you know, nothing like that ever, ever happened…Beau all along thought that I should run and that I could win…there was not what was sort of made out as kind of this Hollywood-esque thing that at the last minute Beau grabbed my hand and said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to run, like, win one for the Gipper.’ It wasn’t anything like that.

While the facts behind this bizarre drama remain mysterious, the motivations seem obvious. Certainly Dowd, whose corrosive hatred of Hillary Clinton is the stuff of soap opera, wanted to encourage the entry of Biden into the Democratic presidential primary (as did many of her colleagues in the Beltway press corps). As for Biden, the dramatic scene in Dowd’s column encouraged supporters and sympathizers to rally behind his possible campaign, which may explain why he failed to shoot down the story until now.

While the vice president allowed this anecdote to persist for two months — notably failing to deny it when he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or when Politico reported that he was its source — he seems to have no compelling reason to prevaricate about the matter now.

That leaves a big dark cloud of doubt over Dowd and the Times editors. (In today’s edition, a story on an inside page about Biden’s 60 Minutes interview glancingly notes his denial of “news reports about conversations with his dying son,” while neglecting to mention the role of the newspaper and its star columnist.) Presumably the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, will inquire how this happened on behalf of perplexed readers. The explanations should be interesting.

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Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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15 Comments

  1. Darsan54 October 26, 2015

    How do you tell when MoDo is lying or just making it up? It’s published in the NY Times.

    Reply
    1. FireBaron October 27, 2015

      For reasons unfathomable to mere mortals like you and me, the Old Gray Lady has a pathological hatred for HRC that goes beyond that of any normal entity run by human beings. Even the Wall Street Journal is more sympathetic to her than the NYT!

  2. silas1898 October 26, 2015

    This whole episode seems to have only strengthened Hillary.

    MoDo needs a brownie. And some valium.

    Reply
  3. Theodora30 October 26, 2015

    Actually that story – and the fact that Biden did not deny it – made me view him less favorably. It seemed he was using his son’s death to further his ambition – and trash the Clintons which I find particularly crass. I am really not sure what the truth is since it took him so long to deny it. Dowd is a despicable person so I have no problem believing she could have embellished this story but Joe’s behavior has been troubling, too.

    Reply
  4. Dominick Vila October 27, 2015

    The loss of a child is, by far, the worst tragedy a human being can experience. If VP Joe Biden feels he is not ready to endure the challenges of a political campaign, he did what an honorable person should do: he declined to pursue the ultimate dream of every politician.

    Reply
  5. Jinmichigan October 27, 2015

    Dowd has been a liar for decades. Nothing new about that,

    Reply
  6. yabbed October 27, 2015

    The knives have always been out for Hillary Clinton. Most of Sanders’ supporters are GOP operatives trying to tear down her numbers. The Republicans need anyone but Hillary to run against if they want to end up back in the Oval Office. The NRA and AIPAC trolls are right there with them in that plot. But, Hillary Clinton is going to be the next President of the United States and Joe Biden knows that. He will endorse her at the appropriate time. The Democratic Party leadership supports her.

    Reply
    1. RED October 27, 2015

      Wow!! You really believe Sanders supporters are GOP operatives? Just Wow!! I had no idea I was a GOP operative, do I get paid for being an operative? Look, I’ll take Hillary over any of the GOP Cons any day but don’t discount the need or the support for real change in this country before we have nothing left to change.

    2. TheSideEye October 27, 2015

      Actually, I believe the support for Bernie Sanders to be both very real and quite genuine. That said, political operatives from the GOP have proven, time and time again, that they are willing to do or say anything to win. The constant innuendos of wrongdoing against the Clintons has done incredible damage. The fact that there have been no charges and no proof have ceased to matter.

  7. Kurt CPI October 27, 2015

    Who could have imagined “the press” finding lower ground than the institution had already sunk to. But it seems sensationalizing political stories that prop up a political persuasion, or failing to report genuinely newsworthy content because it might make “the cause” look bad, aren’t enough. Now news agencies are making things up. Whether in the tank for Biden or looking to defeat Clinton, if this is a lie all who knowingly participated must be fired. Freedom of the Press was never about freedom to print lies.

    Reply
    1. johninPCFL October 27, 2015

      Actually, Fox proved that they CAN intentionally spread lies:

      “In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation,” it was simply a “policy.” ”

      “During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so. “

      1. Kurt CPI October 27, 2015

        Then we need to make it a law, or at least a requirement of licensing for a business claiming to be reporting factual news. It’s one thing to write or speak in a tone that favors one point of view as long as the facts are presented, but that’s not the same as making things up and reporting them as actual occurrences. There is a line and there should be a penalty for crossing it.

        1. johninPCFL October 27, 2015

          Just for giggles, read any transcript of an O’Reilly interview. Whenever he’s asked about his journalism credentials, he always responds “I’m not a journalist. I’m an entertainer.” Hannity started his career as a morning “shock jock” and has never really changed. Megyn Kelly was her class valedictorian and had to “dumb it down” to get ahead at Fox, and she’s really learned that lesson well.

          If you look across the spectrum at Fox, their shows are “infotainment”, not news. There are two news shows per day, the rest are entertainment with some news content.

  8. FireBaron October 27, 2015

    Wow, Maureen Dowd making stuff up? Whoda thunk it!

    Reply
  9. Carolyn1520 November 2, 2015

    If Dowd worked for Fox, no one would bat an eye.

    Reply

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