A funny thing happened on the way to wall-to-wall coverage of the Supreme Court hearing on Colorado’s decision to disqualify former President Donald Trump on 14th Amendment grounds: Special Counsel Robert Hur published his office’s report on the investigation of President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, and bedlam ensued.
Special counsel Robert Hur’s report bumped the Supreme Court hearing as the top story across the dial. Each of the networks differed slightly in their approaches, but ended up in the same place: using the report’s explosive comments on Biden’s mental acuity in order to distract from contradictions between Biden’s statements and the report, with a dash of “what about Trump”.
Most emblematic of the coverage is NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt’s introduction to the story filed by senior White House correspondent Gabe Gutierrez:
LESTER HOLT: No criminal charges, but at the same time, little to celebrate for President Biden today, after a special counsel investigation found he willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after leaving the vice presidency. A scathing report centered on documents, some classified as top secret, found in Mr. Biden’s home and former office that special counsel Robert Hur said presents serious risk to national security but raising serious questions about the president’s recall, saying his memory was significantly limited in interviews with investigators. Tonight the president says he cooperated completely, threw up no roadblocks, and sought no delays. The special counsel, meantime, drawing a sharp distinction between the president’s document troubles and the criminal documents case pending against former President Trump. The controversy providing another split screen moment in the race for president on the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over whether Donald Trump belongs on the Colorado ballot.
Always and at all times, as I’ve often said, the truest and purest victim of the news cycle on any given day is the electoral prospects of Joe Biden. Today was no different. Every report featured some type of reaction, either from the White House or the Biden campaign, to the age and mental acuity portions of the report. Most notably, ABC’s Mary Bruce:
MARY BRUCE: Look, the White House is well aware of voters’ concerns about the president’s age, and they are pushing back against the special counsel’s characterization. Biden’s legal team in a letter saying, quote, “We do not believe that the report’s treatment of President Biden’s memory is accurate or appropriate. The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events. Such comments have no place in a Department of Justice report.” Then adding, “In fact, there is ample evidence from your interview that the president did well in answering your questions about years-old events over the course of five hours.” Bottom line, while this report legally clears the president, politically, David, this could still be damaging.
Everyone mentioned classified reports, but the greatest amount of detail as to the scope of that information came from CBS’s Catherine Herridge:
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: The records included documents marked classified, as well as Mr. Biden’s personal notebooks of national security briefings. The records contained highly sensitive intelligence, sources and methods, military programs and capabilities of foreign terrorist groups.
That piece of information alone demolished the narrative that Biden’s documents case is somehow different from Trump’s. We were also reliably told that Biden’s documents were “locked”. Come to find out, they were all over the place.
The special counsel’s report cites a recording of Biden acknowledging in 2017 that he had boxes of classified documents, which contradicts any narrative of immediate turnover of documents to the National Archives as soon as Biden became aware. The networks did not report this, as it demolishes the narrative of this case somehow being different from Trump’s. Emphasis of Biden’s mental woes was the shiny object that allowed the networks to hide this plain contradiction.
Even then, ABC and CBS were not fulsome in their coverage of the memory aspects of the report. Only NBC mentioned the phrase “diminished capacities”, which speaks to Biden’s future ability to perform his duties beyond memory lapses.
Overall, a very bad day for the White House, one which the media could not mitigate despite their level best attempts at firefighting.
For the ABC transcript, click HERE
For the CBS transcript, click HERE
For the NBC transcript, click HERE