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@EricBoehlert

Why Trump’s Abuse Of Power Is Truly Worse Than Watergate

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Stunning new abuse-of-power revelations remind us of the Trump administration's complete disregard for democratic principles. We now know that over a span of years it took extraordinary legal measures, including gag orders and secret tribunals, in pursuit of email records from reporters at CNN and the Washington Post. Team Trump also unleashed the courts on Democratic members of Congress and their families trying to obtain private phone records, as well as secretly targeting a key White House attorney, who possibly fell under suspicion for not being sufficiently loyal to Trump.

The disturbing portrait now in focus is one of a Republican White House that for four years worked in tandem with partisan prosecutors to systematically politicize the vast powers of the Justice Department, which often treated Trump's allies leniently, and used unprecedented tools to target his foes. It was Trump recklessly using the executive branch to gather private information on members of the legislative branch, as well as members of the media.

The emerging scandal already eclipses Richard Nixon's Watergate in terms of the benchmarks we use to gauge Washington, D.C. abuse of power. It's "Nixon on stilts and steroids," Nixon's former White House Counsel John Dean told CNN. "Nixon didn't have that kind of Department of Justice."

It's worse than Watergate because the White House abuse of power was purposely powered by the Justice Department. This would have been if U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell had helped plot the Watergate break-in, instead of a band of rogue Nixon sycophants. This is worse because it's institutional abuse conducted by political entities with boundless authority, such as the White House and the DOJ.

"Taken together with the Republican Party's refusal to hold Trump to account for the Capitol insurrection and its nationwide efforts to restrict voting, the new allegations also indicate that the freedoms and core values that have underpinned American life for two-and-a-half centuries remain in almost unprecedented peril," stressed CNN's Stephen Collinson.

It's worse than Watergate because this is what it looks like when democracies begin to crumble. It happens regularly all over the world, usually in emerging democracies, as nations lose their grip on crucial liberties while under the leadership of autocratic rulers.

And it's worse because since the scandal first broke last week, the Republican Party, as usual, has refused to acknowledge Trump's radical ways and condemn the anti-democratic behavior. While Democrats now push for Congressional investigations into the scandal, it appears Senate Republicans wlll stand in the way of issuing subpoenas, which are crucial in terms of gather evidence and compelling cooperation.

There's little doubt that today's blindly loyal GOP would have tried to block Congressional subpoenas issued during the Watergate investigation. (As the break-in and cover-up revelations tumbled out, Nixon eventually lost the support of Congressional Republicans.)

Late last week, the Justice Department's independent inspector general opened an investigation into the decision in 2018 by federal prosecutors to secretly seize the iPhone data of House Democrats, including Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell and their family members. Trump's team, which subpoenaed Apple, was desperately trying to hunt down who had leaked classified information early in the Trump administration. Specifically, leaks with regards to Trump's collaboration with Russia during the 2016 election.

It's almost unheard for the DOJ to use the courts to secretly seize data from members of Congress if those members are not the target of a corruption investigation, which Schiff and Swalwell clearly were not. They became abuse-of-power targets because they were trying to hold Trump accountable for his criminality.

Democrats weren't the only Trump enemies targeted by his out-of-control DOJ. It also secretly obtained the phone records of multiple Washington Post reporters. Imagine if Nixon's DOJ had snagged Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's phone logs as they reported out the Watergate caper?

On another wild fishing expedition, the Justice Department tossed CNN into a prolonged, Kafka-esque legal battle. Demanding access to 30,000 emails from Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr, government lawyers refused to tell the network what the larger DOJ investigation was about, who the subjects of the investigation were, the subject matter of the reporting at the center of the matter, or when the investigation was opened. The Justice Department also forbade CNN's general counsel from talking to Starr about the extraordinary chain of events in play.

"I was informed that, other than conferring with counsel, the order prohibited me from acknowledging to anyone that it even existed unless I had express permission from the Department of Justice," CNN's top lawyer David Vigilante explained. "And I was further informed that if I violated the order, I was subject to charges of contempt and even criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice."

Last December, a district court heard CNN's appeal and was unimpressed with whatever secret evidence the DOJ had accumulated in its mysterious case that required taking possession of 30,000 Starr emails. The gag order was soon lifted.

The good news is that CNN, the Times, and the Post met with Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday. In alignment with President Joe Biden, Garland's DOJ has said that it will not seize reporters' records as part of leak investigations.

And you can be sure it won't target Biden's political foes with partisan and secretive subpoenas.

The Beltway’s ‘Gotcha’ Media Comes For Kamala Harris

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Stepping into the role of theater critic, CNN this week panned Vice President Kamala Harris' first foreign trip, as she traveled to Guatemala and Mexico. The negative review wasn't based on the substance of Harris' diplomatic excursion, instead the network deducted points for style, following the direction set by Republicans who were dead set on giving the trip a negative slant.

Leaning heavily on Republican talking points, CNN declared the Central American visit had been marred "by her seemingly flippant answer" given during an interview with NBC News. "Republicans are using this moment to ramp up their attacks on Harris" the network announced, as if that somehow determines Harris' fate.

CNN's coverage was relentlessly negative, attacking her "defensive" behavior, questioning her "political agility," stressing her "political missteps," mocking her "clumsy" and "tone deaf" media performance; her "shaky handling of the politics" surrounding immigration.

Over and over, the CNN report stressed that because Republicans and conservatives didn't like Harris' trip, it must be considered a failure — it was a "bad week" for the VP. And all because of a single back-and-forth she had with NBC's Lester Holt, who pushed a favorite GOP talking point, repeatedly demanding to know why Harris hasn't visited the U.S. southern border — the one that the press and the GOP insist represents a "crisis."

Doubling as the Gaffe Police, CNN uniformly announced that her brief response to the border question had "overshadowed" her entire trip. But who decided it "overshadowed"? News outlets like CNN, which were busy singing off the GOP chorus, and noting how Republicans had "pounced" and "piled on" the kerfuffle. CNN insisted Harris' trip had produced "poor reviews," but CNN and Republicans were the ones producing them.

The lack of context was also telling, coming after four years of Trump and his team ransacking the norms. In light of his dangerous tenure, the Harris controversy this week about a single border question and whether she was too casual in her response, seems quaint and rather absurd. The last time Trump's vice president made news was because he was in danger of being killed in the halls of Congress by a roaming, insurrectionist mob unleashed by his boss. By contrast, Harris got hit with days of bad news coverage for possibly mishandling a policy question during a television interview. (By the way, CNN.com published a Mike Pence valentine this week.)

Would Harris likely answer Holt's question differently if given a second chance? It's possible. But the idea that her 30-second border response "overshadowed" her entire Central American trip is absurd.

Harris' foreign visit coverage was part of a larger media push recently to try to trip up the VP with Beltway gotcha coverage — her Memorial Weekend tweet was all wrong! She's hiding her Asian heritage!

This kind of eagerly negative coverage springs from a media yearning for conflict. Frustrated by the No Drama Biden era, which has been completely absent of backstage White House gossip, and the kind of daily and hourly tumult that marked the Trump years, journalists are constantly overreaching, trying to create news where none exists.

Consider this bewildering media narrative that's become commonplace in recent weeks: It's bad news for Harris that she's taking on substantive responsibilities as vice president, such as leading the administration's response to stemming the flow of migration from Central America, and organizing the Democratic fight against a slew of Republican suppression laws being passed nationwide. This bad-news VP meme has been relentless ("Is Kamala Harris Being Set Up to Fail?" Slate asked), and it defies logic. Instead of giving Harris credit for tackling the nation's tough problems, the press is preemptively dinging her for possible failures. "Harris can't win," New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently announced.

As for the role Harris has played in the administration's stunning Covid-19 vaccination success story, that mostly gets buried in the coverage of her tenure to date, as the press scrambles for missteps to highlight.

Note that a recent Atlantic profile of Harris was dripping with condescending commentary, calling her "uninteresting," "having a hard time making her mark on anything," and stressing that, "she continues to retreat behind talking points and platitudes in public, and declines many interview requests and opportunities to speak for herself." Of course, the piece was loaded with quotes from Republicans demeaning her, which appears to be the basis for most Harris coverage these days.

Last year, when Biden announced Harris as his running mate, the conservative media machine set off allegorical bomb blasts all around her, frantically trying to depict Harris as radical and dangerous, not a mainstream U.S. senator from the largest state in the union.

"In style and policy, Harris epitomizes an authoritarian," the National Review gasped. The far-right Federalist warned panicked readers that Harris, a former prosecutor, represents a "radical threat to America." And Fox News' Sean Hannity announced the Biden-Harris duo was "the most radical ticket of a political party in our lifetime by far."

The right wing loves to vilify Harris. The mainstream media fails when it treats those attacks as news.

Stop Calling The Arizona Recount Charade An ‘Audit’

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Now in its seventh week, the pointless review of two million ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona's most populous outpost, has not only emerged as a dishonest, partisan circus, it's also a blueprint for how right-wing conspiracists want to treat future GOP election losses. Along the way, they're deliberately destroying faith in the democratic process.

As the "fraudits" spread to other states, and as it becomes clear that hard-core Republican fanatics will stop at nothing in their pursuit of overturning the 2020 election, it's imperative the press undertake a course correction and stop calling these partisan sham events "audits." They're not going away and the press needs a better, more exact way to describe them. By adopting GOP "audit" language, journalists are doing the right wing's bidding and undermining confidence in U.S. elections.

Once again, the GOP's radical and dangerous behavior in the age of Trump ought to prompt news outlets to change the language they use to cover American politics. There is no precedent for a former U.S. president to barnstorm the country insisting his election loss was fraudulent and claiming "Indians" were paid to vote in 2020. And there's no precedent for the mockery that's being made out of ballot-counting in Arizona, a charade that even local Republican election officials have dismissed as a "grift disguised as an audit."

The question is, how does the media cover the Grand Canyon State's slow-motion train wreck? By using "audit" without including qualifiers, such as "so-called," "alleged," or "absurd," the press lends an undeserved air of legitimacy to the clown proceedings. The language use becomes especially problematic when "audit" is deployed in headlines, which is what most people end up reading, instead of the body of the article. A New York Times front-page, print headline yesterday read, "Arizona's Vote Audit Is Scorned. Republicans Press On, Anyway."

On Twitter, Washington Post editors were promoting an article about "the national push by Trump allies to audit 2020 ballots." (The Post constantly refers to the disinformation campaign as an "audit.")

For casual news consumers, the assumption is that Republicans are simply conducting an audit of the votes, and may start doing them in other states. And what's wrong with an "audit," right? "Audit" sounds serious and precise.

By contrast, NPR took a smart approach with a recent headline, putting the word in quotation marks to signal the dubious nature of the Arizona sham: "Experts Call It A 'Clown Show' But Arizona 'Audit' Is A Disinformation Blueprint." And a recent CNN report referred to the Arizona effort as a "so-called audit" and a "partisan ballot review."

Another good description for the ongoing shenanigans might be an "unofficial review," since the ballot exercise carries no legal weight and cannot change the vote outcome. "Partisan inquisition" is also an accurate offering, as well as "boondoggle," "charade," "farce," and "sham." Using those terms means journalists would have to stand up to Republicans and not be afraid of "liberal media bias" cries that would certainly follow.

The truth is, "Most certified auditors contacted by The Arizona Republic, including accountants, internal auditors, and forensic auditors, say this is not an audit," the state's largest recently newspaper reported.

The ongoing process in the Southwest clearly fails to meet any of the standards required for official recounts or audits by state law. With financial support from My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and a nonprofit set up by a reporter for One America News Network, which has been given exclusive access to livestream from the audit site, Arizona partisans have reportedly scanned ballots with UV lights to look for secret watermarks that fanatics think Trump's Department of Homeland Security placed on legitimate ballots to differentiate them from fake ones. They're also inspecting ballots for traces of bamboo to determine if they were snuck into to the country from Asia.

Note that a legitimate post-election audit of Maricopa County was conducted one week after last year's election. That is to say, a multiparty audit board conducted a hand count of ballots from a sample of randomly selected voting precincts and compared them with the results from voting machines. For Arizona's largest county, the audit uncovered not a single ballot discrepancy. The county also hired two separate, independent firms to perform a forensic audit of the voting equipment used and found nothing amiss.

What's happening in Arizona is not a recount, either. Recounts typically occur when there's an infinitesimal margin of victory, but Joe Biden won Arizona by 10,000 votes. "In the recount and audit space, 1,000 votes is, for all intents and purposes, a landslide," David Becker, the executive director of the nonpartisan nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research, told FiveThirtyEight. "A margin of 10,000 votes is an off-the-charts landslide" for a recount.

The Arizona ballot charade is a perfect example of conservative extremists trying to create their own reality and their own set of facts, and hoping the mainstream media helps them by adopting misleading language, like an Arizona "audit."

How Trump Became An Online Flop In 2021

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

After less than a month of postings, Trump's blog was officially taken offline last week, after drawing an embarrassingly small audience. Loyalists will no longer be able to check on "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump" to read his latest, bitter musings.

The sudden move to unplug the aging Florida blogger came as Trump continues to struggle to attract an online audience after getting de-platformed by Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in the wake of the January 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. The social media giants rightly accused Trump of inciting violence and of depicting the mob vigilantes as patriots. Once accustomed to seeing his tweets and Facebook posts garnering millions of likes and responses, Trump now finds himself lost in the online wilderness, ignored and rejected.

NBC News last week reported that Trump's blog had "attracted a little over 212,000 engagements," a shockingly small number for someone of his political status. By comparison, when Trump got banned for life from Twitter, he had 88 million followers.

While Trump is widely seen as the odds on favorite to win the 2024 Republican nomination if he decides to run again, competing in a general election campaign with virtually no online presence could pose a major problem for the him.

Although there had been chatter about Trump launching an ambitious media play in his post-presidency years, he's always been lazy. Which is why the idea that he'd undertake the Herculean task of building a social media outpost from nothing always seemed farfetched. To date, it's clear he's taken a haphazard approach to his website.

The Washington Post reported that Trump's blog was taken down because he was upset that people were making fun of its paltry audience. Going back to his days at The Apprentice,Trump has always used ratings as a way to judge a person's worth. One of his favorite putdowns as president was to claim that a particular news network had bad ratings, which means his dismal showing online this year no doubt stings. Especially after his flak Jason Miller had hyped the site as "the hottest ticket in social media, it's going to completely redefine the game."

Why the online collapse this year? Aside from Trump's hibernation down at Mar-a-Lago, he's clearly been unable to reproduce the buzz that his tweets, and to a degree his Facebook posts, generated. Reveling in Twitter's rapid-fire insult style, Trump became a social media star by making news and announcing controversial government policy online. By comparison, his dreary, boring blog posts generated yawns. His namesake site is also seen as being primitive by 2021 standards, and included no comment section for Trump's blog postings.

The site's audience collapse in the last 12 months has been astonishing. "Data provided by right-wing website monitor The Righting revealed that last April, DonaldJTrump.com pulled in 14.4 million unique visitors. Last month, it garnered a mere 161,000," The Wrap recently reported.

It hasn't just been his colossal flop as a blogger. All across the internet, references to Trump have plummeted, even as Republican leaders scramble to placate him.

"Chatter about Trump has fallen across the biggest social media sites to its lowest level since May 2016, when he was just becoming the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee, according to the BuzzSumo data," the Post reported. "On Twitter, data from the online-analytics firm Zignal Labs shows, mentions of him have cratered to an average of about 4 million a week, the lowest since 2016."

The bad online news comes after Trump's recent one-hour sit-down with Steve Cortes and Jenn Pellegrino on NewsMax on May 25 drew just 295,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data — and just 62,000 viewers in the advertiser-coveted age demographic of 25 to 54. That same night during the 9 p.m. time slot when Trump appeared on NewsMax, his interview got beat badly in the ratings by Chopped, and by HGTV's Unsellable Houses, which pulled 1.3 million total viewers, or nearly four times the Trump audience.

For years, the media loved to portray Trump as a cultural phenomenon who produces bonanza ratings. Of course, Trump pushed that media myth himself. He once claimed that when he appeared on Fox News Sunday in November 2018, the show landed nine million viewers. In truth, 1.7 million people tuned in. The truth is, he often produces shoulder shrugs.

Trump's convention acceptance speech last year was the lowest-rated one in primetime history. The summer before, ABC News aired a primetime Trump special, built around the idea of tagging along with him for 30 hours inside the White House. The special flopped, coming in third place among the three major networks on Sunday at 8 PM ET. Worse, the show produced just half the television audience that ABC's Celebrity Family Feud had attracted in the same time slot one week earlier.

The dichotomy now at play is an amazing one: As Trump fades from public view and generates so little interest online, the Republican Party continues to genuflect in front of him.

New Washington Post Editor Left An Ethical Debacle At AP

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post announced with much fanfare that it was hiring Sally Buzbee to be the newspaper's new editor. Arguably the second most important newspaper in America, the top Post position carries with it enormous responsibility. Buzbee will soon join the Post in June after she finishes up her current position as senior vice president and executive editor at the Associated Press, the world's largest news outlet.

But suddenly Buzbee and the AP are facing a barrage of questions after the wire service fired a young reporter, Emily Wilder, last week. She became the target of a concerted right-wing smear campaign because of Pro-Palestinian tweets she had posted in college. (Wilder is Jewish.)

The episode is not only troubling for the AP, it's also a problem for the Post, as it prepares for Buzbee's arrival. The last thing the paper wanted during this key transition period, which followed an extensive, high-profile search for a new leader, was to be grappling with doubts about Buzbee's leadership. But after watching the Winter debacle unfold last week at the AP, it's impossible to not question the editor's newsroom guidance. Post reporters must be wondering how many of them will soon be thrown under the bus by management if GOP activists target them with bogus claims of "bias."

The stunning termination of Wilder came just 16 days after the Stanford University graduate was hired. Her AP bosses told her she had violated the company's social media policy, although they would not detail how. Her college tweets became newsworthy when conservative news outlets, including The Federalist, Washington Free Beacon, and Fox News, began highlighting them and accusing AP of having an anti-Israel bias. Note that the entry-level Wilder was working out of the AP's Arizona bureau and her journalism output had nothing to do with the Middle East.

Wilder was initially assured that her previous tweets were not a problem and that the AP would stand by her, but was subsequently fired. The move came just days after the AP's bureau in Gaza was bombed by the Israeli military as part of the May fighting that erupted in the Middle East. The Israeli government insisted the building housed Hamas operatives, but has not provided definitive proof in order to justify leveling the AP building. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) pointed to Wilder's employment and tweeted, "Not a surprise from a media organization that shared office space with Hamas." He also suggested the AP colluded with Hamas and allowed reporters to be used as "human shields."

It's clear the AP found itself in the middle of a contentious, international national standoff when the Wilder story, and the manufactured claims of bias, began to gain traction. Rather than defend its targeted reporter, AP caved to the right-wing mob, thereby encouraging to take aim at more journalists in the future.

"It feels like AP folded to the ridiculous demands and cheap bullying of organizations and individuals," Wilder said. "What future does it promise to aspiring reporters that an institution like The Associated Press would sacrifice those with the least power to the cruel trolling of a group of anonymous bullies?" she asked.

Added Columbia Journalism School professor, Emily Bell, "If news organizations cave in to pressure from bad faith campaigns, if they cancel workplace contracts on the basis of student activism or errors of judgment, then the field will miss out on some great reporters. Newsrooms are too often unprepared for this predictable onslaught."

The whole sordid chapter represents a black eye for the AP and raises real questions about its leadership.

Whether Buzbee directly ordered Wilder's firing is unclear. But Buzbee is a high-ranking executive of the news operation and everyone there must have known terminating Wilder would generate lots of news. More significantly, Buzbee has remained silent as the controversy has escalated and the AP has been widely denounced within journalism circles for giving in to disingenuous, right-wing trolls who aren't seeking fairness, but instead want media scalps as trophies.

It was clearly Wilder's college tweets that prompted AP's review of her online content. But in justifying her firing, the AP insists she was fired "for violations of AP's social media policy" for tweets posted this year.

None of this is believable and it all reflects poorly on the AP. If the Associated Press did have a problem with a new hire regarding a tweet or two, the normal course of action would be for an editor to counsel that person and warn them about the social media policy. It's completely irrational to fire someone hired just 16 days earlier because of a minor social media guidelines transgression.

It's obvious the AP did not want to defend Wilder and did not want to do battle with bogus GOP allegations, so the wire service took the cowardly way out.

And soon, the AP's executive editor will be taking over the Washington Post newsroom.

Stop Shaming Workers About Their Relief Checks -- And Give Them A Raise

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Workers suddenly enjoy newfound clout in the emerging post-pandemic economy. With lots of employers desperate to fill a stockpile of new positions as retail outlets spring back to life in a vaccinated America, a short-term worker shortage has emerged. Republicans and their business community friends are furious, blaming a lazy workforce, and the press is helping their cause by shining a spotlight on employer complaints, while paying far less attention to employee priorities.

Republicans are loudly braying that President Joe Biden is to blame for the sea of "Help Wanted" signs, as GOP governors across the country take the extraordinary step of cutting off additional unemployment benefits for their struggling citizens. They're refusing the funds even though the benefits, $300 a week until September, are paid for entirely by the federal government, as part of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package signed into law.

"We are currently facing a labor shortage created in large part by the supplemental unemployment payments that the federal government provides," South Carolina's Republican governor announced, while turning down millions in aid, much of which would have been spent by residents inside red states, thereby boosting local economies.

Republicans have been cheered on by the Chamber of Commerce and other deep-pocketed interest groups which are demanding the government somehow make people go back to work -- often for low, stagnant wages, under poor working conditions, and while punching the clock for huge corporate employers that pocket billions in profits. (The median hourly pay for American fast-food workers in 2020 was $11.47, the same year McDonald's posted $5 billion in profits.)

First off, rarely have we seen an unproven economic hunch like this treated so seriously by the press. The vast majority of the news coverage simply accepts as fact that government benefits might be keeping people from returning to work. Even though that same coverage rarely includes a single piece of empirical evidence to back up the claim. (Economists have found no proof to support it.)

Writing in the Washington Post, Megan McArdle announced unequivocally that the $300 stimulus checks were "holding back the economic recovery," by giving people a strong disincentive to work. McArdle's proof? "Anecdotally," she was sure it was true.

Over and over, that pro-business talking point has been echoed in local news coverage as well. When WKNB in Youngstown, Ohio, reported on the Republican governor cutting off employment benefits, only business owners who supported the move were quoted, no workers. Same with a local report from the Albany Times Union in New York, which quoted a restaurant manager blaming the worker shortage on the government for "giving them all the money to stay home." No workers were interviewed.

That GOP narrative misses an important story unfolding as America emerges from the pandemic: Long-held assumptions about how we live are being scrambled.

For instance, as more schools nationwide reopen, millions of schoolchildren are opting not to return to in-person learning, just like millions of Americans, for now, are currently choosing not to return to the workforce. If the claim is that workers are staying home because the government is paying them in $300 weekly checks, what's the reason students are staying home, since there's no federal financial incentive to do so?

Answer: Priorities and lifestyles changed during the pandemic.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch recently nailed it in a column:

A year of lockdown has scrambled our ways of thinking about the workplace and where our paycheck fits into the broader meaning of life, our concept of what a job is worth, and — and here's where things get really interesting — who holds the upper hand? For the first time in decades, American workers are wondering ... who's the boss?

Maybe the glut of low-paying jobs isn't a sign of American slothfulness — it's a growing sign of worker awareness and self-preservation.

Over the last four decades, worker productivity in the U.S. has increased nearly 70 percent, but pay for hourly workers has only gone up 11 percent. People are working more efficiently, producing bigger profits for companies, and not being properly compensated.

That's the more important story, and it's going largely ignored by the mainstream media, which seem more interested in helping Republicans shame workers, as they deny additional unemployment benefits to two million people in red states.

Meanwhile, the press frets over the plight of employers while breezing past worker priorities. The New York Times last week did a long, front-page piece looking at businesses in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, struggling to find workers and stressing that government benefits are keep applicants away. The article featured the owners of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. But how much was the brewery willing to pay employees as owners complained that they couldn't fill their slots? That's important context in terms of how businesses are responding to the workforce shortage. If they refuse to significantly raise the rates they pay, should readers be sympathetic to their hiring plight and their claims that the Biden administration is responsible for the shortage?

But the Times article never reported how much the brewery paid. Down at the final sentence in the article, readers were informed, "When asked if it was raising pay, Dogfish Head said it offered competitive wages for the area."

Shorter answer: No, the brewery likely isn't paying higher wages. But the brewery is complaining about its worker shortage — a complaint the media gladly amplify.

Hapless Media Have No Idea How To Cover Deranged Republicans

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Hours after Republican House members forced Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) to surrender her leadership role for the sin of denouncing Trump lies about his election loss, Republicans at a House Oversight Committee hearing addressing the Capitol Hill insurrection spent the same day spreading misinformation about Trump's attempted coup.

Claiming that what transpired that day really wasn't a riot but instead a collection of misguided enthusiasts voicing their concerns, Republicans made clear not only would they not assign blame to Trump for stoking the deadly assault, but they were going to defend the rioters and rewrite history about that ugly day on Capitol Hill.

From Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA): "There was no insurrection. To call it an insurrection is a bold-faced lie."

In normal times, if the public sacking of Cheney for lack of fealty and the public support for insurrection had happened in the same calendar year, it would have been considered a shocking turn of events for a mainstream political party in this country. The fact that both events happened within hours of each other this week only highlighted how radical, dangerous, and anti-democratic the GOP has become, as it hurtles far beyond the mainstream and into the abyss.

Unfortunately, the Beltway press has no idea how to cover this story. It still refuses to use the proper tools and language to put the troubling actions of the GOP in context via its straight news coverage. Hiding behind Both Sides journalism, timid language, and purposeful naïveté, news outlets still aren't being honest about the dire threat Trump Republicans now pose to the country.

Watching the party maneuver itself to be able to invalidate future elections — by passing voter suppression laws, installing local election boards that refuse to certify wins, empowering state legislatures to refuse to certify their state tallies, and electing a Republican majority in the House of Representatives that will deny the Electoral College count — means the United States faces the most entrenched, internal political threat since the Civil War. That's no exaggeration, considering the defining loyalty test for the GOP today is backing Trump's claim that the 2020 election was stolen, which in turns positions the party to question all future election results.

The GOP and its followers have become consumed in deliberate lies, yet the press still views the party as a serious entity whose views deserve to be treated respectfully.

"It's time the media stop covering the GOP as a political party - it's not," tweeted SiriusXM radio show host Dean Obeidallah. "Today's Republican party is a white nationalist, fascist movement and those exact words need to be used by the media so everyone gets the threat the GOP poses to our nation."

It's clearly a conservative movement that's flown off the rails, and resembles nothing we've seen before in modern American politics.

Just in recent days:

• Republicans in Arizona running the clown 'audit' of the 2020 election are searching for traces of bamboo in paper ballots to prove they are counterfeits smuggled in from Southeast Asia.

• A Colorado State representative referred to a colleague as "Buckwheat" while addressing the House.

• QAnon loyalist and Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene aggressively confronted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in the halls of Congress, and falsely accused her of supporting "terrorists."

• 124 GOP-friendly retired generals and admirals released an open letter spreading the lie that President Joe Biden stole the election, while labeling him a "Marxist" and "tyrannical" threat to America.

• A Republican lawmaker in Michigan wants to force non-partisan "fact checkers" to register with the state and face $1 million fines if public officials prove "wrongful conduct" in their work.

Nervous about claims of "liberal media bias" though, the press holds back.

After witnessing Taylor accost Ocasio-Cortez this week, Washington Post reporter Marianna Sotomayor told CNN that the ugly encounter "really does speak to the polarization that exists and the tensions between both parties, Republicans, and Democrats." [Emphasis added.] Wrong. What Taylor's deranged behavior speaks to is a Republican Party that has torn down the guardrails of common decency.

The New York Times recently published a long piece about the deepening "era of endemic misinformation — and outright disinformation." The article highlighted obvious partisan lies pushed by right-wing media and conservatives, such as Biden's going to force Americans to eat less meat. Instead of framing the epidemic as a Republican-created one, the Times pretended the avalanche of right-wing conspiracies represent a larger, cultural issue.

The press for years has consistently misreported on the increasingly extreme nature of the Republican Party. Specifically, journalists have pressed the faulty notion that GOP members are supposedly worried about Trump. Last summer, the Times announced Republicans were "despairing" over Trump's erratic and authoritarian behavior.

The Times' coverage looks deeply naïve in retrospect. Just like when, in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, the Beltway media insisted a "reckoning" was looming for the GOP over Trump. Instead, Republicans just purged Liz Cheney for criticizing his anti-democratic behavior.

All last winter, the D.C. press told us not to worry about Trump's refusal to acknowledge Biden's lopsided victory — Politico insisted it was just "bad sportsmanship."

Today, there are some glimmers of media hope. CNN on Sunday night is airing a special report, "Radical Rebellion: The Transformation of the GOP," which hopefully won't downplay the rebellion, or what's now at stake. And more news outlets are now using "lies" to describe Trump claims about the 2020 election. That language change is welcome, although long overdue.

The Beltway press has never had to cover a political party that openly embraces anti-democratic policies, such as undermining free and fair elections in America. It's a defining media challenge.

The Journalists Who Parroted Barr’s Lies Owe An Apology

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

A "powerful boost."

That's how the New York Times in March 2019 famously described Attorney General William Barr's supposed exoneration of Trump following Barr's reading of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Refusing to release the sprawling report, Barr instead put out a thin, four-page press release where he brazenly lied about the Mueller 'reports contents, and claimed Trump was in the clear.

It was an audacious move by Barr, and it worked because the Beltway press eagerly played along, reporting that Trump's Russia worries were not only over, but that Mueller's unseen conclusions had given Trump's re-election a "powerful boost."

This week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington confirmed Barr lied about the Mueller report:

From the Washington Post:

[Berman] blasted Barr's four-page letter to Congress in March 2019 that said the special counsel did not draw a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed the investigation and that Barr's own opinion was that the evidence was insufficient to bring such a charge.
In reality, Mueller's report laid out evidence of obstruction but said the special counsel could not fairly make a charging decision, given department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Even in real time, the news coverage of the Mueller report and Barr's crooked summary of it stood out as one of the low points of the Trump presidency in terms of a systemic press failure. It was stupefying to watch grown men and women at elite news outlets treat Barr as a serious, honest person; to treat the story as truthful simply because it involved the U.S. Attorney General.

Three years into Trump's ransacking of democracy, and after three years of watching Republicans completely disregard the truth, journalists foolishly played along with the charade, running in front of cameras to announce Trump had been "exonerated," without having a read a single sentence of the Mueller report. Overnight, journalists collectively decided that a four-page summary—typed up by a partisan GOP official who had promised Trump he'd never been indicted —was the same thing as seeing the special counsel's findings. It was truly astonishing.

Now that a federal judge has confirmed that the press got played, badly, what's the media response going to be? Will there by any introspection, will editors and producers reflect on how and why they got taken for a ride on one of the most important news stories of 2019? Will there be any transparency with readers and an apology, along with an explanation for what went so terribly wrong in March, 2019?

The likely answer is no to all those questions, because when it comes to being honest and open about grave blunders the press made while covering Trump, there's no appetite for it, except when the criticism comes from conservatives screaming "liberal media bias." There was never any soul searching from the Beltway media for its colossal failure from the 2016 campaign, when it treated Hillary Clinton's emails as if they were Watergate + Iran Contra. Or the way the press conveniently obliterated policy coverage while Trump ran a policy-free campaign.

At the head of the apology line ought to be the Times, which sent an immediate message to the Beltway with its "powerful boost" proclamation, and announcing the Russia "cloud" had been "lifted" from the White House. Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote an entire piece that referred to the findings of the Mueller report, even though nobody at the newspaper had seen it. "Robert Mueller seems to have concluded after a definitive investigation, Mr. Trump's win was not the illegitimate product of a treasonous conspiracy," he wrote [Emphasis added].

He also mocked "the aggrieved and embarrassed #resistance-tweeting punditocracy" for "downplaying Mr. Mueller's findings," even though Manjoo had no idea what Mueller's "findings" were. Additionally, the paper matter-of-factly detailed, "The Mueller Report's Findings," as if those were verifiable things at the time. Reminder: No reporter had read the report at that time.

Of course, it wasn't just the Times that fell on its face treating Barr's obfuscation as fact. CNN's Chris Cillizza labeled it, "A credible and well investigated report that [Trump] nor his campaign colluded with the Russians," while NBC's Ken Dilanian announced it was a "total exoneration" of Trump.

Journalists who typically demand access to documents when evaluating investigations made sweeping conclusions based on the Barr press release. The "Mueller report is out," CBS News announced, even though nobody at CBS News had read it. Stonewalling Republicans refused to release the Russia investigation findings, but the Washington Post at the time insisted it was Democrats who lookrf bad because they "boxed themselves in" on the Russia story.

Rather than going with accurate headlines, such as "Trump's Attorney General Claims Mueller Has Cleared the President," newsrooms tossed context aside and embraced GOP-friendly proclamations: "Mueller Finds No Conspiracy" (Washington Post), "Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (New York Times)," Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (Politico), "Mueller Doesn't Find Trump Campaign Conspired with Russia" (Wall Street Journal), "Mueller Finds No Trump Collusion, Leaves Obstruction Open" (Associated Press).

None of those headlines were accurate, and they did extraordinary damage because they allowed the White House to proclaim victory. "This was an illegal takedown that failed," Trump bragged at the time. "It's complete exoneration. No collusion."

Beltway journalists failed in so many ways during the Trump years. It's time for them to acknowledge that.

How Australia Is Trying To Cure Its Murdoch Cancer

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Imagine if the toxic nature of Rupert Murdoch media's lies and bullying became so overpowering in America that a bipartisan movement sprang up against it. Imagine if former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush came together to demand a Congressional inquiry into Fox News and the danger Murdoch poses to our democracy.

That's what recently happened in Australia, when former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull — occupying different parts of the political spectrum — joined forces to denounce the Murdoch media cancer that's eating the country. They're urging the government to take steps to diversify media ownership and to break up the dangerous coalition that now exists between right-wing politicians and the Murdoch press, which serves as an unaccountable, but extremely powerful, entity in Australian politics.

Parliament hearings were held after Rudd's petition to establish a royal commission into media diversity became Australia's largest-ever e-petition, and the country's third largest petition of any kind.

Rudd, a progressive, has labelled Murdoch's' empire a "cancer" on the country, while the center-right Turnbull branded it "an absolute threat to our democracy." Both men were targeted by the Murdoch media machine when they were in power. Turnbull actually pointed to the destruction Murdoch has done to Australia's "most important ally," the United States, and specifically the Fox News-backed January 6 insurrection, and warned Australia was headed for the same type of democratic calamity. (We'll never know how many thousands of people Fox News killed during the pandemic by spreading lies to its mostly elderly audience about the virus, and then the vaccine.)

In Australia, Murdoch media's relentless attack on climate change has already fed sweeping natural disasters, most notably the epic bushfires in 2019 and 2020, which killed dozens of people, more than a billion animals perished, and 2,000 homes were lost.

Murdoch's media concentration there is unmatched. His News Corp controls 60 percent of newspapers in Australia, the country where he was born. To get a sense of his pull Down Under, that would be as if he not only owned the New York Post and Wall Street Journal in the U.S. but also the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and used them all to pump out toxic, right-wing misinformation. In Australia, he does it for the counter-intuitively named Liberal Party. It's News Corp that effectively governs the country and makes policy by using its vast media properties to push politicians around.

News Corps also owns the country's second-biggest news website news.com.au and 24-hour channel Sky News Australia. (Murdoch might soon make Fox News available in Australia.) The country recently ranked third in the world for media concentration, behind only the state-owned media of China and Egypt.

"The most powerful political actor in Australia is not the Liberal Party or the National Party or the Labor Party, it is News Corporation," Rudd warned. "And it is utterly unaccountable. It is controlled by an American family and their interests are no longer, if they ever were, coextensive with our own." He added, "We are drowning in lies."

That feeling of disdain may be spreading. Last year, a News Corp finance manager sent a stinging, all-staff email as she resigned. "I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies," she wrote. She described the news reports that came out Murdoch's The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun as "irresponsible" and "dangerous".

All during Australia's Black Summer of 2019, as deadly bushfires spread, "News Corp's massive misinformation campaign defended fossil fuel interests, accused arsonists of being the major cause of the fires and repeatedly attacked individuals who advocated urgent action on climate change," Al-Jazeera reported.

Months after the Black Summer, State Environment Minister Matt Kean broke ranks with the conservative government when he delivered a speech calling for stronger action on climate change and criticized those that treat the issue as a "matter of religion" rather than science. He clearly stated that the unprecedented bushfires had been caused by climate change. Kean then became a prime Murdoch media target, especially from his largest Australian tabloid.

"The attack on him in the [Daily] Telegraph following that was bitter, vicious and personal," Turnbull testified last month. "And it was designed not only to punish him but it sends a message, and this is how it operates like a gang, like a mafia gang, it sends the message, 'If you step out of line you'll cop some of this, too.' That's the threat. So other politicians look at that and say, 'Oh gosh I don't want to go there.' That is the reality."

In the U.S., Fox News was first created to serve as an obedient megaphone for the Republican Party, loudly spreading its talking points. Over the last two decades, the network has taken a much more proactive position, often launching attack campaigns against liberals and Democrats, which the GOP eventually signed on to.

Now, as in Australia, we're seeing signs of Fox News and other Murdoch properties ascending to the role of party disciplinarian and punishing players who fall out of line. Look no further than the Murdoch media attacks on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who has emerged as a rare, intra-party Trump critic and who voted for his impeachment this year.

America and Australia remain uniquely plagued by the Murdoch cancer.

If Biden Were Republican, Press Would Tout Him As ’The New Reagan’

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Viewing the world through the prism of the GOP, Politico announced President Joe Biden's speech to Congress Wednesday night, where he presented a sweeping, optimistic view for America's rebound from Covid-19, was a big win…for Republicans. Pushing the absurd storyline that Biden's speech hurt him because it highlighted his agenda (he's been trying to keep it hidden?), Politico declared the GOP had seized the night. Or, as its headline announced, "Biden Gives Republicans What They've Been Waiting For."

That is some tortured logic. Especially considering that people who watched Biden's First 100 Days speech loved it, as he outlined new initiatives for cheaper childcare, smoother roads, faster internet, and promised to combat climate change.

The Politico misstep this week didn't occur in a vacuum. The Beltway press hasn't figured out how to cover the low-key president, who so clearly does not crave attention or insert himself into every news cycle. Journalists mistake Biden's No Drama persona as him being some sort of placeholder figure. Just 25 percent of Biden's early news coverage from mainstream media outlets has been positive, according to a new study from Pew. Yet Biden keeps posting big win after big win — a vaccination rollout that's become the envy of the world, an economy that's roaring back to life, and signing into law the largest social spending bill in U.S. history.

Politico actually posted this April headline: "How Good News Could Complicate the Biden Agenda." Apparently, too much good news is bad news for the White House.

Let's face it: If Biden were a Republican and had posted the same jaw-dropping first 100 Days, the Beltway press would be marveling at his accomplishments and crowning him a political phenomenon. They'd also be making the case for why he was the next Ronald Reagan, whom the media still tout as a universally loved, master communicator.

Back in the early 1980s, the Beltway press fell all over itself praising the new Republican president, showering him with fawning coverage that set the tone for his eight years in office.

"When Ronald Reagan arrived in January 1981 to begin his term as the fortieth President of the Unite States, he was blessed to inherit a national press corps that had long since abandoned the mildly adversarial posture of the late Nixon years in favor of a more deferential attitude towards conservative ideology and authority," Mark Hertsgaard wrote in his seminal book on Reagan and the press, On Bended Knee. "It's hard to say whether White House cajoling or news media self-censorship was the stronger goad in producing the extremely friendly news coverage that greeted the Reagan administration in 1981."

He noted, "While top Reagan officials later affirmed that press coverage of the administration had been fair and balanced throughout the first term, both [David] Gergen and [Mike] Deaver cited these first six months as an especially friendly time."

Truth is, Reagan's first 100 Days were nowhere near as successful as Biden's. Consider:

• 200 million vaccine shots have been administered to Americans.

• A recent Pew poll found that a stunning 72 percent of Americans, including 55 percent of Republicans, say Biden has done an excellent job managing the Covid vaccination.

• Biden has witnessed unprecedented growth on Wall Street, better than any of his predecessors going to back 70 years.

• Jobless benefits have fallen to their lowest of the pandemic.

• Retail sales recently soared 10 percent as Democratic-backed stimulus checks hit bank accounts.

• Biden has promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and rallied world leaders in the process.

• His $2.2 trillion infrastructure proposal remains widely popular with voters.

Yet, Biden is still often met with media shrugs. The New York Times recently claimed, "Joe Biden never captured the hearts of Democratic voters in the way Barack Obama once did." This, just months after Biden scored 81 million votes, more than any candidate in American history.

ABC News tweeted this GOP-friendly take over the weekend: "BREAKING: 52% of Americans approve of Pres. Joe Biden's first 100 days in office—the third-lowest of any president at that milestone since Harry Truman."

First of all, a recent Pew poll had Biden at 59 percent, which put him on par with George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at their 100 Days mark. More importantly, Biden is immediately 15 points more popular than his Republican predecessor, but ABC decided to pretend Biden's polling numbers are weak.

In terms of Biden's overall approval, his current, solid-but-not-spectacular numbers should to be put in context. We've entered such a polarized era in American politics that the days of a sitting president coasting along at 65 percent are a relic of the not so distant past, simply because across-the-aisle support is so rare today. It didn't used to be. Just 20 years ago, W. Bush snagged 39 percent support among Democratic voters during his first 100 days in office.

Understandably, Democratic voters resisted Trump's radical and corrupt presidency in a nearly uniform manner. Now Republicans consistently oppose Biden's center-left presidency simply because he's a Democrat.

Despite that extreme polarization, Biden's approval ratings remain sturdy as his agenda wins bipartisan support. We're watching a president who goes deep each time he comes to the plate. The press covers him like he's hitting singles.

The Press Keeps Chasing — And Never Finding — Those ‘Moderate Republicans’

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Busy pursuing the mythical creature known as the Republican "moderate" — that rare species of conservative who's willing to work with Democrats— the Beltway press recently announced a key sighting. A gaggle of influential "moderates" were willing to work with President Joe Biden to pass a sweeping infrastructure bill.

Those handful of GOP senators include Shelly Capito (R-WV), Patrick Toomey (R-PA), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Roger Wicker (R-MS), and they've been eagerly portrayed in the press as middle-of-the-road deal-makers in search of bipartisan compromise. Slight problem, there's nothing "moderate" about these Republicans, all of whom were Trump loyalists for four years and served as his lapdogs in the Senate. Also, the comically small infrastructure "compromise" they offered up last week was deeply unserious.

This kind of misleading coverage has been a long-running staple of the Beltway media, which loves the idea of "moderate" Republicans stepping forward, in part because journalists have been ceaselessly harping on the idea that all legislation in the Biden era needs to be bipartisan because the Democrat had promised to "unite" the country during the campaign. Also, because the press embraces the narrative that there's a group of thoughtful centrists at the heart of today's GOP — pragmatic do-gooders, happy to occupy the middle ground.

The media bar is set so low for Republicans that apparently the simple act of being willing to discuss a pressing piece of lawmaking with a Democratic White House makes GOP senators "moderates." But are the Republicans actually "moderates"? Do they hold a worldview that places them in the middle of the political spectrum, and do they often work with both sides of the aisle?

No, no, and no. In fact, it's not even close. The so-called moderates spent the last four years voting with Trump 80 and 90 percent of the time. There's nothing centrist about their views, not when they were in bed with the most radical player in modern American politics. Still, the press loves to tell a pleasing tale about Republicans.

Just look at how the press treated Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) when he announced in February that he's retiring from the Senate. A Republican who served as a reliable rubber stamp during four years of Trump insanity, voting with the White House nearly 90 percent of the time, Portman was lauded in the press at the time of his retirement announcement as being "pragmatic," "serious," and a man who privately bristled at Trump's dangerous behavior.

Yet just days after announcing his looming retirement, and without facing the political pressures of running for re-election, Portman voted to acquit Trump of inciting a deadly insurrectionist mob at the U.S. Capitol, because he said the Senate impeachment trial was "unconstitutional." (It clearly was not.) So that's how "moderate" Rob Portman actually is.

Speaking of impeachment, during Trump's first Senate trial, the New York Times tried to present Rep. Peter King (R-NY), as a "moderate" while he ferociously defended Trump's attempt to help a foreign country interfere with a U.S. election.

If the current infrastructure "compromise" looks familiar, it's because we just saw this same off-base coverage surrounding the Covid relief bill. When ten Republican senators reached out to the Biden White House this winter to discuss a possible compromise on the Democrats' proposed $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, the media quickly identified the players as "moderates," and pushed the idea about a possible bipartisan deal. The Associated Press singled out Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) as a key "moderate" who hoped for a bipartisan deal — Katko sided with Trump eight out of ten times in the House.

Over the winter, the Times stressed that, "Moderate Republicans in competitive districts are navigating a careful balance in addressing the coronavirus crisis, eager to put some distance between themselves and a president whose response has been criticized." That's simply not true — not one Republican member of the House voted for Covid relief.

And the "compromise" they offered was laughable, just like the recent GOP "compromise" proposal on infrastructure was laughable. On Covid, the so-called moderates backed a $600 billion relief package, compared to the $1.9 trillion pandemic bill Biden signed into the law. Being the party out of power and urging the president to strip away 70 percent of his Covid and infrastructure bills simply did not represent a sincere negotiating position. And that's why Biden ignores Republican offers. (On infrastructure, Biden wants to spend $2.3 trillion; Republicans are backing a $568 billion proposal.)

But for news consumers, the story presented by the media is that there's an honest back-and-forth negotiation going on, because "moderates" have offered a "compromise." The press constantly plays along with the charade. Weeks ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) signaled Republicans would support a comically small $800 billion infrastructure plan, compared to the $2.3 trillion one Biden supports. Yet the Wall Street Journal, among many, treated the offer as being legitimate, claiming the minuscule counter-proposal underscored the "GOP interest in a bipartisan fix for the nation's aging roads and patchy broadband service," and that "Republicans are seeking a compromise on infrastructure."

Spoiler: They're not. A serious, GOP counter-proposal for Biden's $2.3 trillion proposal would be in the $1.6 billion range.

This media trend isn't new. When Jeb Bush ran for president in 2016 and was a contender before the arrival of Trump in the GOP primary field, the campaign press worked overtime positioning him as a "moderate" — a pragmatic label Bush embraced as he eyed a general election against a Democrat. Yet when he served as governor of Florida, the Sunshine State became one of the nation's most pro-gun states, with a variety of laws that lessened restrictions on ownership. After leaving office, Bush remained a far-right politician regarding taxes, climate change, abortion, repealing Obamacare (it's "clearly a job killer"), civil rights, right-to-die, gun control, relations with Cuba, and legalizing marijuana.

Why on earth was the press touting him as a "moderate" in 2016? Same reason they're scrambling today to describe some Republicans who voted with Trump 95 percent of the time as "moderates." In the hands of the Beltway press, it's become a meaningless compliment.

New York Times Drives ‘Both Sides’ Journalism Over The Cliff

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Pushing the implausible claim that America faces symmetric threats to democracy today from conservatives and liberals, the New York Times' Nate Cohn on Monday uncorked a wildly misguided Both Sides foray that highlighted the anxious tradition of the Beltway media to position Republicans and Democrats as being equally at fault for today's political turmoil.

Instead of forcefully pointing out the conservative movement's dangerous and proud turn toward authoritarianism and paramilitary violence, Cohn tried to argue that what's happening with extreme polarization represents a move towards "political sectarianism," and that the right and left are now caught up in a ceaseless war featuring equal attacks from each side. At every turn, Cohn could only find examples of right-wing behavior that threatens our democracy, yet he insisted Both Sides were to blame.

Here's his bewildering opening paragraph [emphasis added]:

New limits on voting rights. The corrosive effect of misinformation. The rise of domestic terrorism. Foreign interference in elections. Efforts to subvert the peaceful transition of power. And making matters worse on all of these issues is a fundamental truth: The two political parties see the other as an enemy.

After detailing the many threats Republicans pose to democracy, Cohn announces Both Sides are to blame for the political suspicion in this country, or the rising sectarianism. Cohn notes that the term is often associated with violent, religious-based conflicts, such as Sunnis vs. Shiites in Iraq, or Catholics vs. Protestants in Northern Ireland. He stresses that with sectarianism, there becomes clearly defined generational hatred between identity groups: "It's the antagonistic feelings between the groups, more than differences over ideas, that drive sectarian conflict."

Cohn frames American politics today as the battle between two unbending factions. But it's not. Instead, it features a struggle between a mainstream center-left party trying to pass an infrastructure bill, and a party that has divorced itself from reality, embraced a cult-like devotion to a pathological liar in Trump, opposes free and fair elections (and welcomes foreign interference), sponsored a deadly insurrection, surrendered itself to lunatic ravings of a conspiratorial Q cabal, and spent the last year spreading deadly misinformation about a public health crisis.

Instead of a generational battle underway, what's unfolding in America is a specific reaction to the Republican Party's aggressive embrace of anti-democratic and racist initiatives, as led by Trump. Liberals aren't alarmed and vocal because they were taught by their parents to despise conservatives. They're alarmed and vocal because of what they've seen unfold everyday for the last five years, and they're watching the extremist trends continue unabated.

Look at this astonishing passage, as Cohn strains to Both Sides everything in sight:

That contention helps make sense of a lot of what's been going on in American politics in recent years, including Donald J. Trump's successful presidential bid, President Biden's tortured effort to reconcile his inaugural call for "unity" with his partisan legislative agenda, and the plan by far-right House members to create a congressional group that would push some views associated with white supremacy.

In Cohn's eyes, Biden's inability to bring "unity" to the country is on par with Republican members of the House weighing the idea of starting a white supremacy caucus. Forget that Cohn uses the media's ridiculous "unity" charade to attack Biden (when he ran for office promoting "unity," Biden wasn't signaling he'd abandon his agenda in order to placate Republicans), it's disturbing that Beltway journalists can't see how those two examples of behavior by Biden and far-right members of Congress are in no way similar. (Note that Cohn also equates MSNBC with Fox News.)

He goes on: "[Sectarianism's] an outlook that makes compromise impossible and encourages elected officials to violate norms in pursuit of an agenda or an electoral victory."

So the reason every Republican member of the House and Senate voted against the Covid relief bill was because they view Democrats as the enemy? Even though the bill enjoyed overwhelming public support. The reason every Republican will likely vote against the infrastructure bill is because they see Democrats as the enemy? Even though that bill also enjoys bipartisan support. The reason Republicans categorically oppose every common-sense gun safety bill as America drowns in mass murders is because Republicans view Democrats as the enemy?

What have mainstream Democrats done to cause Republicans to view them as monsters, to demonize them? Cohn doesn't provide a single example or insight, which suggests that's not what's happening with today's radical Republican Party.

In an effort to normalize the increasingly extreme and dangerous actions of Republicans, Cohn stresses, "the minority often poses a challenge to democracy in a sectarian society. It's the minority who bears the costs, whether material or psychological, of accepting majority rule in a democracy. In the extreme, rule by a hostile, alien group might not feel much different than being subjugated by another nation."

In other words, conservatives and Republican supporters are anxious about being in the political minority under Biden, which is why they're acting out and posing a threat to democracy. Right, but Democrats just spent four years in the minority during the Trump presidency and Cohn can't point to a single instance of anti-democratic behavior by them.

The media's biggest challenge during the Biden administration is being honest and accurate about today's extremist Republican Party. It's a test the press continues to fail.

The Only Gun Reform Story Is Republican Obstruction

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

America's deadly scroll of mass murders doesn't have a pause button:

•April 15: Eight dead in Indianapolis.

•April 13: Six dead in Allen, Texas.

•April 7: Six dead in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

•March 31: Four dead in Orange, California.

•March 28: Five dead in Essex, Maryland.

•March 22: Ten dead in Boulder, Colorado.

•March 16: Eight dead in Atlanta.

We are stuck on this deadly loop because Republicans categorically refuse to pass common sense gun safety initiatives that enjoy overwhelmingly public support. That's it — that's the only Beltway story that matters in terms of the habitual mass murders that plague America in a way they haunt no other country on the planet.

Yet after each numbing gun rampage, the press glosses over the GOP's radical obstruction. The media have absorbed as fact that a small number of Republican senators can hold the country hostage to assault weapon mass murders, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The unspoken point from the press is there is no legislative fix — that's a narrative that lets Republicans off the hook.

"When does it become urgent?" lamented a CNN anchor on Friday, in the wake of the Indianapolis workplace slaughter, just moments after a CNN reporter suggested all gun reform bills remain in "limbo," which represents a very passive way to cover this ongoing American nightmare.

Republicans and their blind allegiance to the NRA exacerbate this crisis by blocking gun reform laws while simultaneously loosening ownership restrictions and helping to flood the country with firearms. Yet how many "Republicans Still Oppose All Gun Reform In Wake of Mass Murders" headlines have you read in the last month? I haven't seen any. But I have seen lots of coverage about how "Congress" can't pass gun laws, how there's "gridlock," and even how the lack of meaningful new gun laws might be the fault of Democrats.

In a Politico article about President Joe Biden urging new gun reform legislation last week, this was the entirety of the role Republicans play [emphasis added]: "The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which Democrats hold by the slimmest possible majority and would need 10 Republicans to get on board. Democrat-backed efforts to enact gun reform legislation have failed in recent years."

Why have gun reform bills "failed in recent years"? Politico doesn't mention the GOP's radical obstruction. Meanwhile, in this CNN article about why gun laws don't get passed, the word "Republican" is never even mentioned.

Even when the media do address the issue of Republicans and gun reform, they botch the story. "I wrote an article three years ago, explaining why Republicans were unlikely to change their minds and why there was little backlash to them opposing a measure that some polls indicate is supported by more than 80% of Americans," CNN's Harry Enten posted last week. Left unsaid was the fact that a key reason Republicans don't face a "backlash" is because the press routinely portray GOP's obstruction as mere "gridlock," or "Washington" being unable to pass laws.

Enten's analysis stressed that Republicans haven't moved on the specific issue of gun reform because polling suggests they don't have to. What he conveniently omitted was the fact that Republicans oppose Biden on everything. Just like Republicans opposed Obama on everything. The press for years has refused to tell that simple truth about today's GOP.

The New York Times recently asked "Is Biden Missing His Chance on Guns?," as if the Democrats were the reason bills don't get signed into law. In the wake of the Indianapolis massacre — that city's third mass shooting this year — U.S. News announced, "After Shootings, Even Democrats Pose a Barrier to Gun Control Legislation." The Both Sides article included zero evidence that Democrats are blocking gun safety bills.

Following the latest mass murder last week, the Times again framed the issue as being about Biden's lack of action, stressing that he "rejected calls to appoint a gun "czar" to more forcefully confront the crisis." The Times also reported gun legislation fails because of "apparent gridlock." This is exactly how Republicans want the gun reform debate to be covered.

Blaming Democrats for the GOP's concrete obstruction isn't new. The Beltway press did the same thing to President Barack Obama, when his administration made a major push to pass a background check bill after 20 first graders were massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in late 2012. Even after Democrats whittled the bill down to a fraction of its original intent in order to win enough Republican votes to break the filibuster, the GOP refused to pass the bill.

Incredibly, the pundit class then blamed Obama: If only he had acted sooner, or proposed other legislation, or talked more often to Republicans, or not held public events in support of new gun laws. If Obama had just done everything differently, pundits suggested, he would've been able to win substantial Republican support and been able to easily secure passage of new gun safety legislation. Democrats were criticized for getting "cocky" during the legislative process, missing "their window" following the school massacre in Newtown, CT., and for "grasping at straws."

Following the Sandy Hook mass murder, Republicans for months blocked every conceivable Democratic proposal, and the pundits blamed…Democrats. Nearly ten years later we know there's nothing Democrats can do in terms of cajoling, because Republicans mindlessly oppose addressing gun safety no matter how many Americans die.

By the way, how radical of a shift is today's GOP behavior on guns? Note that in 1999,31 Senate Republicans voted in favor of mandating background checks at gun shows. And in 1994, 42 House Republicans voted for the Crime Bill, which included a ban on assault weapons. But all of that context gets left out of gun reform coverage today, as the press pretends Republicans have always been uniformly opposed to new laws to protect citizens.

There's a mass murder crisis in this country, and the press needs to tell the truth about the GOP and its role.

How Media Botched The J&J Vaccine ‘Pause’

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Concerned about six rare and severe blood clot reactions out of nearly seven million Americans who have received the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, the CDC, and the FDA last week announced a sweeping pause of the immunization in order to investigate the handful of cases.

The J&J vaccine, with its single-dose regimen, currently represents less than five percent of the 100 million-plus vaccines that have been administered this year. The government has more than enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to hit the goal of 200 million shots by the end of the month, according to the White House.

Unfortunately for the J&J breaking news, crucial context was missing from most of the headlines. Instead of stressing that less than one in a million J&J shots had produced the troubling blood clot reaction, the press focused on "concerns" surrounding the "halt," and how the move "threatens to slow U.S. pandemic progress":

•"Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Halt Across Country After Rare Clotting Cases Emerge" (New York Times)

•"CDC and FDA Recommend US Pause Use of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 Vaccine Over Blood Clot Concerns" (CNN)

•"US Recommends 'Pause' For J&J Vaccine Over Clot Reports" (Associated Press)

•"Pause of J&J Vaccine Threatens to Slow U.S. Pandemic Progress Amid Rising Caseload" (Washington Post)

•"Stocks Wobble After J&J Vaccine Halted, Inflation Uptick" (Wall Street Journal)

•"US Calls For Pause in Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Over Blood Clot Concerns" (ABC News)

•"U.S. Recommends Pausing Use Of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Over Blood Clot Concerns" (NPR)

It would have been such a simple fix to include "six cases" in each of those headlines, or "extremely rare" in order to give the story crucial, factual context. It's especially important to provide that full meaning during a public health crisis. Reading those headlines, people likely assumed there were hundreds if not thousands of cases that prompted the vaccine "pause."

The key omission played into the hands of conservatives who work hard to raise doubts about the virus shots.

It's true that news consumers who dug into the reports discovered how rare the vaccine-related blood clots were. But those consumers were likely in the minority. According to a a 2016 study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, nearly 60 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. "People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper," the chief researcher announced.

The J&J news also attracted lots of media attention speculating whether the halt would cause more people to not want to get vaccinated.

It was a bit ironic Tuesday to watch reporters repeatedly press White House officials at the daily media briefing about whether the J&J pause will increase vaccine hesitancy, while never addressing the role the press might play in that phenomenon. By repeatedly failing to put the J&J pause in proper context, specifically with headlines, news outlets bear some of the responsibility this week in pushing alarmist narratives that don't match the facts.

The CDC and FDA move comes at a time when the conservative media have raised doubts about the vaccines and Republican voters, and white evangelicals in particular, have expressed disdain for getting vaccinated as the country tries to achieve herd immunity in order to return to normalcy. For that to happen, anywhere 75 percent to 85 percent of the total population — including children, who are not currently getting the shots — need to be vaccinated.

Nationally, a recent Marist poll in partnership with NPR and PBS found 49 percent of Republican men said they would not take the vaccine. In Texas, 61 percent of white Republicans say they'll decline. In one county in Alabama, just seven percent of the eligible population has opted to get vaccinated. (More than 90 percent of county voters backed Trump last year.) And in North Carolina, a coastal county will stop administering vaccines at the end of the month because so few residents are scheduling appointments for the shot.

On Tuesday, the J&J announcement was treated as the biggest Covid news in weeks. The halt came at a time when there had been endless encouraging news about the vaccine rollout during Joe Biden's presidency.

Is it possible the bad-news angle appealed to the press? A recent study found that the U.S. press prefers to lean into bad Covid news:

The [pandemic] coverage by U.S. publications with a national audience has been much more negative than coverage by any other source that the researchers analyzed, including scientific journals, major international publications and regional U.S. media. "The most well-read U.S. media are outliers in terms of their negativity."

The important J&J pause story was one that cried out for full context in all aspects of the coverage, including the all-important headlines. Instead, the press bungled the assignment.

UPDATED: "Axios' Neal Rothschild notes that of the 20 most-engaged stories on social media about the Johnson & Johnson pause, just two headlines included the context that the blood clots were rare occurrences, according to data from NewsWhip."

Why There Will Never Be Another Rush Limbaugh (Thank God)

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Before Fox News there was Rush Limbaugh. Before Breitbart, InfoWars and QAnon, there was Rush, purposefully polluting American minds for profit. Today's billion-dollar, name-calling conservative media traces its origins to the rise of Limbaugh's three-hour radio show. But now, with the host's passing this year, the nationally syndicated program represents a propaganda void that's unlikely to be filled.

That's not to say there will be fewer, less dangerous conservative voices in the media, spreading deliberate lies and dividing Americans. There won't be a shortage there, particularly on cable TV, online, and with burgeoning podcasts. But it does mean that in the increasingly fractured media landscape that the uniquely powerful and national position that Limbaugh occupied on the AM dial will not be replaced.

Premiere Networks, which syndicates the show, is currently airing Limbaugh reruns instead of hiring a new host for the noon-to-three time slot. That's not ideal for radio station programmers across the country, since talk radio is supposed to revolve around current events. (Today on Rush Limbaugh: Why Obamacare will destroy America!) But are the existing options any better, in terms of finding new talkers who can command the attention of millions of right-wing followers each afternoon?

For years, talk show hosts mostly stayed clear of competing with Limbaugh's three-hour afternoon slot. Since his passing, Cumulus Media's Westwood One announced Fox News contributor Dan Bongino will launch a noon show starting in May. Meanwhile, former NRA flack Dana Loesch has signed a new three-year deal with Radio America to continue to her noon-to-three, right-wing show. Both hosts stand almost no chance of replicating Limbaugh's success or taking over his mantle. Stations could hire local hosts to fill that afternoon slot, but that costs more than signing up a nationally syndicated program.

Trying to launch a new conservative talk show during the Biden era also represents a huge challenge for GOP radio. Like Fox News, conservative radio seems to be struggling to land rhetorical punches against the Democratic president. (Look at how its Hunter Biden obsession has flopped.) Fixated on fighting cultural wars while Biden enjoys solid public support, the conservative media remains adrift in the Biden era, as Trump remains mostly in seclusion in Palm Beach, Florida.

"Biden, not only do I think is a terrible president in these last few months, it's just terrible for talk radio," Bongino recently admitted. "I think Biden is a disaster for the country and his ideas are an atrocity. But he's boring. He's just boring. It's going to be a challenge."

Another missing element will be the way the mainstream press treated, and often lauded, Limbaugh — this New York Times Magazine profile of Limbaugh from 2008 still reads like a 4,000-word press release, touting the AM troll as "an American icon." Overly impressed by his inflated claim of having 20 million listeners, the Beltway media treated Limbaugh as a Very Serious Person, even though he was a name-calling bully who often had no idea what he was talking about — he told listeners Covid-19 was no worse than "the common cold," and claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.

Still, the media loved to portray Limbaugh as deeply informed and influential, even as his ratings sagged, and presented the country club demagogue as a spokesman for (white) working class Americans. It's unlikely Ben Shapiro for instance, the far-right ideologue with a large following, is ever going to land that kind of glowing, mainstream media coverage.

Limbaugh helped save AM radio when he emerged as a talk radio star in the late 1980s at a time when AM stations had lost out to the cleaner, less static sounds of FM radio. At the same time, in 1987, Ronald Reagan's Federal Communications Commission repealed the Fairness Doctrine, which had required stations to present politically "balanced" programming. That meant Limbaugh could bash Democrats for three hours nonstop every day. Fast forward three decades and Limbaugh's death arrived alongside AM's slow motion demise.

"Once a leading platform for popularizing conservative candidates and policies, talk radio is on the verge of becoming background noise, drowned out by a cacophony of voices on podcasts, cable TV and social media," the Washington Post reported this year.

The pandemic also hit talk radio hard. "2020 is the year that in-car AM/FM radio has hit the proverbial iceberg," Radio World reported. "The COVID-19 pandemic and its related lockdowns severely curtailed regular commuting journeys, where much of consumers' radio-listening originates."

The right-wing talk format also skews way too old. "We're at the sea-change moment," Radio America's Mike Paradiso recently told Axios. "At some point, the stations need to make a shift to bring in younger listeners."

Demographically, that's just not going to happen on AM radio. Today, fewer than 8 percent of those who regularly listen to talk radio are between the ages of 25 to 54, according Nielsen's research. And just 4 percent of consumers 18 to 34 listen to talk stations.

Online, Limbaugh's presence had also been dwindling. In January of 2020, his website ranked as the 15th most popular among conservative outposts, according to TheRighting's analysis. By January 2021, the Limbaugh site had fallen out of the top 20. In terms of audience size, last November RushLimbaugh.com drew 1.4 million unique visitors, compared to Fox News' 130 million for that month.

For three decades, Rush Limbaugh held a uniquely powerful and influential position in American media. Thankfully, that won't be replicated on the AM dial.

Do Newspapers Really Need More Misleading "Trump Voter" Profiles?

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Old habits die hard.

After four years of settling into a lazy practice of treating Trump voters as inherently newsworthy and deserving of constant friendly news coverage, some outlets are having trouble breaking free of the routine three months into the Biden era. Even after the insurrectionist mob, stocked with Trump loyalists, tried to overturn an election.

This week it was the Washington Post, which inexplicably published a long piece that served simply as a laundry list of quotes from Trump supporters and Republican politicians trashing President Joe Biden's new $2 trillion infrastructure proposal:

• "It's got too much junk in it."

• "It's too much."

• "The wrong prescription for America."

• "It's a coverup for wasteful spending by our government."

• "It's a Christmas list of wasteful schemes radical liberals pushed for long before the pandemic."

The Post felt it was important to fan out across the country and record the objections without offering any counter balance.

Meanwhile, how many Biden voter stories are we seeing, even as the Democrat is riding a robust approval wave? Biden just signed into law the most popular social spending bill in more than 50 years. The U.S. jobs market is roaring back to life as the vaccination rollout continues to post astonishing results, with four million shots now being administered each day. (The U.S.'s runaway vaccination rate is five times faster than the global average.)

Yet reporters still aren't sitting down with diner Democrats in blue states to document just how much they love the new president, the way they did for four years amplifying Trump voters at every possible chance. In the span of just four days in early 2017, the New York Times published a long profile on women who voted for Trump, a piece on Trump fans who traveled to the inauguration, and an adoring profile of a Trump voter who lied about Hillary Clinton during the campaign and profited from his fake news business.

I lost count how many Trump Voter articles the Times published, but it certainly numbered in the dozens. (Here's one from just three months ago.) Even a Trump supporter who had nice things to say about Nazis received a gentle Times profile. Committed to the idea that Trump's white backers were the most important, and most authentic, voices in American politics, the media spent four years glorifying them, marveling at their loyalty in the face of Trump's erratic behavior.

Why newsrooms ever thought that 'Trump Voters Support Trump' articles made for compelling reading, we'll never know. But they did. And now to be fair they ought to be churning out 'Biden Voters Support Biden' dispatches. Biden today is more popular with Democrats than Trump ever was with Republicans, even though the press portrayed Trump as having a magical, unbreakable bond with the GOP "base."

Instead of Biden Voter stories, we get entirely misguided Republican updates like the recent one from the Post.

Let's look at three wrong-headed assertions from the Post piece, crammed into a single paragraph. [Emphasis added]:

But any window for cooperation appears to have already closed for Republicans in Congress — and it may be closing for GOP voters, as well. Interviews with dozens of voters in three swing congressional districts across the country revealed evidence that attacks on the spending push are beginning to take hold, and congressional Republicans said they are well positioned to capitalize on voter doubts and win their way back to power in 2022.

1. Forget about the GOP "window for cooperation" now supposedly closing for the infrastructure plan. The idea it ever existed is pure fantasy. The Post makes it seem like the Republican Party today is stocked with fair-minded men and women who of course, want to give Biden a chance and approach each new initiative with an open mind and the country's best interest at heart. In reality, the Republican Party has embraced a radical strategy where complete obstruction serves as the norm, even on issues where Republican voters support Democrats.

We just saw that with the Covid relief bill, where a clear majority of Republicans nationwide backed the emergency bill — and not one elected Republican in the House or the Senate voted 'Yes.' Yet just weeks later the Post pretends Republicans are all ears when it comes to listening to Biden infrastructure proposal?

2. The Post didn't interview dozens of "voters" in three swing congressional districts to get the nation's temperature on the proposed infrastructure bill, the Post interviewed Republicans. Of the six voters quoted in the article, not one is identified as a Biden supporter. The Post also quoted four Republican Congressmen — and zero Democratic members of Congress.

3. The Post amplifies the absurd Republican spin that the one-week-old infrastructure proposal is going to cost Democrats control of the House in two years — it's absurd because nobody has any idea what the defining issues of the 2022 midterm election cycle are going to be. Pretending that an infrastructure proposal, which is popular in the polls, is going to be a loser for Democrats is just regurgitating Republican talking points.

Our political landscape has shifted under the weight of a popular Democratic president. The press needs to drop those old, useless Trump habits, fast.

When You Hear The #PsakiBomb Falling, It's Already Too Late

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

The day after President Joe Biden's first press conference last month, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy arrived at the White House press briefing feeling unloved. Having not been called on at the formal Q&A with Biden, and dwelling on his oversized sense of importance, Doocy raised his hand and asked if there as an official White House policy of not calling on him — he wanted to know if there was a coordinated campaign to ignore the Fox staffer constantly in search of a partisan fight.

Looking slightly bemused while giving her patented third-grade-teacher head tilt that conveys a willing patience, but also an unspoken and stinging, "really?", White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki patiently addressed the grievance:

PSAKI: We're here having a conversation, aren't we?

DOOCY: Yes, but.

PSAKI: And do I take questions from you every time you come to the briefing room?

DOOCY: Yes, but…

She soon concluded the back-and-forth by complimenting the reporter on his "awesome socks."

The episode confirmed that Doocy vs. Psaki remains one of the great media mismatches of our time. It also made clear that Psaki's the right woman for the right time, and she's emerged as Biden's silent slayer who carries out covert media missions with a smile. She's our real-life C.J. Cregg who has brought smarts and wit back the White House briefing room, after four years of the Trump infection, where mindless sycophants at the podium waged war on the free press.

"Press Secretary Jen Psaki is kind of badass at her job, and it's because of the extremely non-combative way she is just FINISHED WITH YOUR SHIT," Wonkette observed. "It's just like ... some kind of assassin thing where some idiot asks her an idiot question and she handles it so quickly and quietly and effectively, the poor idiot's liver is bleeding out before they even feel a thing."

In less than three months, Psaki has put her permanent stamp on the job, taking over the high-profile position at a time of national crisis. Working hard to reestablish an open, professional relationship with the Beltway press corps, Psaki has perhaps done more than anyone in the administration — including Biden himself — in terms of changing the tone in our politics, and creating a new path forward towards a transparent form of government, in the wake of the Trump's ransacking of the norms.Psaki's task is made universally easier simply because her boss is not a pathological liar or an unstable narcissist. Biden's purposely not trying to jam himself into every news cycle, or be a part of the often dubious cultural wars cooked up by conservatives.

For generations, the White House press secretary was hired to serve as a conduit between the Oval Office and the press corps, and to provide accurate information so that the Fourth Estate could inform and educate the public. Trump instead hired a series of angry name callers and performance artists paid to act as Trump's attack surrogates, not to serve the White House's or the public's interests.

Now it's Psaki's turn to fix all that. Unhurried, rarely flustered, and never instigating a fight, Psaki is not only the pitch-perfect public voice of Biden, she's also what the nation needs right now —competence and confidence. She does it all with a stealth, firm hand as she makes history leading the White House's first all-female communications team.

A consummate pro, she's completely uninterested in becoming the story. Psaki couldn't care less about going viral, and certainly doesn't plot her days trying to figure out ways to one-up assembled journalists in the briefing room.

We've seen plenty of instances where she's been asked dopey and petty questions — Why isn't Biden throwing out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' home opener? Why is the fully vaccinated president flying to Delaware to be with his family on Easter weekend? They each provided her an opening to easily mock the questioner. But she'll have none of it.

Instead, she patiently and politely walks the questioner through the answer, doing it in a way that often highlights the blatant absurdity of the premise. In the end, the question gets answered and everyone leaves the room on good terms, but Psaki has made her point.

REPORTER: Americans are saying immigrant surges are happening under President Biden's watch.

PSAKI: Who are the Americans?

REPORTER: The former president.

PSAKI: Former President Trump?

REPORTER: Yes.

PSAKI: We don't take our advice or counsel from former President Trump.

Last week when a reporter asked if the White House would soften its "tone" about the sweeping voter suppression law recently passed in Georgia, Psaki was having none of it: "The tone for a bill that limits voting access and makes it more difficult for people to engage in voting in Georgia? … No, our tone is not changing."

Online, fans refer to those as a #PsakiBomb, the disarming way she dispenses with bad faith or plainly misleading questions. The "bomb" part of that description is slightly off, though. The good-natured Psaki remains a quintessential non-bomb thrower. She's not trying to tear anything down. But her pointed answers can leave a nasty mark when necessary. That's her super power.

And that's why she's the understated rock star of the Biden era.