Why would Joe Biden, who represents the same neoliberal order the corporate media does, be a target of hysterical disdain? It is certainly not because Mr. Biden is taking us too far to the left. Even by the standards of corporate media, Mr. Biden hasn’t taken any serious steps to address our climate apocalypse or any other aspects of our quick march to the end of society as we know it.
Framing Joe Biden as a tool of the left is a narrative used by the fascist right in their conspiracy to erode democracy but why would the supposedly liberal media be joining in? A “return to normal” as represented by the corporate bipartisan neoliberal management of the underclass into the end times is exactly what Mr. Biden represents, and exactly what the media claimed they wanted.
The criticism of Donald Trump, much like the criticism of Joe Biden, frames him as a leftist. Mr. Biden is framed as a woke socialist while Mr. Trump is framed as a revolutionary populist. It is at least true that Mr. Trump wants to end bourgeois democracy. And it is true that Donald Trump used every opportunity to eliminate the free press. This was in theory at least the reason for and the limit of the media’s criticism of him.
Even if the media was incapable of representing the realities of 99% of the population it made sense they would be critical of Donald Trump, regardless of his corporate policies outside of his attitudes about the media. But it seems they dislike Joe Biden even more than the man who was seeking to destroy the very existence of journalism.
I try not to read The New York Times proper. I get the gist of their viewpoint through the Twitter satire account New York Times Pitchbot. This account generates potential headlines for America’s leading newspaper and each one of them exposes the ideology behind neutrality. Donald Trump himself echoed the ideology of the corporate press when he said “there are good people on both sides” in reference to a rally of violent white supremacists and peaceful anti-racist advocates.
Likewise, the pitchbot exposes how supposed moderation is all about which point you choose to moderate around. John Helmeke says Bernie Sanders represents moderation for him because he perfectly balances himself between liberalism and leftism. Moderation between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin could be another form of moderation if one so chooses. The form of moderation by the current corporate press is a bipartisan coalition between fascists trying to eliminate the press and corporate politicians who represent the 1% who the press speaks for.
In spite of myself, I stumbled across an article that explained the press’s hostility to Joe Biden from The New York Times itself. The article was titled “Biden’s Low-Key Media Strategy Draws Allies’ Concern”. The article made the argument that Mr. Biden is in trouble. This is the same article they have made every day about Mr. Biden but all of them have not even been worth reading because all of them framed him as too left or too languid to function, often grouping these things together.
This article was more meta. It was a commentary on the state of the media itself. What they framed as Joe Biden’s problem was really their own. The article became nostalgic for Donald Trump as it spurned Mr. Biden for not taking interest in the media. Better to be abused than to be ignored.
Now it hit me. The reason the media doesn’t like Joe Biden is that unlike Donald Trump he doesn’t sell. The article scolded Mr. Biden for not talking to them and warned of his impending doom. But it also did something surprisingly reflective. It wondered whether Mr. Biden even could gain anything from making more appearances with the corporate press. They cited a primetime town hall on CNN where Mr. Biden couldn’t get bigger head-to-head ratings than Fox.
It seems clear that Donald Trump helps the corporate media quite a bit but it’s unclear whether the corporate media could really help Joe Biden. The unprecedented coverage of Mr. Trump certainly helped him get elected but even more important for Trump 2024 may be the media’s lack of interest in saving journalism itself. The rehabilitation of George W. Bush was shocking when it happened but the rehabilitation of Donald Trump sets a new bar for hypocrisy.
While Donald Trump was cited as a danger to the Republic the media now frames him as an effective stylist who understood the hearts and minds more than Mr. Biden whose supposed welfare state is bankrupting the heartland of America. It’s a narrative Mr. Trump will pick up himself and the liberal media’s masochist tendencies will beg for him to think of them as relevant enough to be intimidated.
Donald Trump does want to get rid of journalism but this time around he may not even find any journalism to get rid of. It is so clear the media needs him more than he needs them that he may simply choose to let them beg.
Joe Biden may be right to recognize that, unlike Donald Trump, he is a disposable figure for the mainstream press. Rather than engaging in a revenue-producing soap opera, Biden would be hit with right-wing talking points on boring policy questions and he could only succeed in such interaction by being openly combative to the Democratic base far to his left, which would only alienate his voters further, or by being openly combative to the free press, which he ran on defending.
As the ideology of so-called neoliberalism finds itself in crisis the media has tentatively taken the side of the authoritarian right. This is not surprising given the treatment of someone like Julian Assange. The media is content for a real journalist like Mr. Assange to spend his life in prison no matter the implications for their field. The media didn’t even blink when Donald Trump floated assassination for Mr. Assange.
This is why the shift against Joe Biden is so surprising. Mr. Biden does not represent protection from violence or institutional support for journalists who challenge the ruling class. If the concern really was about a choice between authoritarianism and socialism then it would make a lot of sense for the press to choose authoritarianism. However Mr. Biden has never indicated that he is interested in protecting journalists like Julian Assange who expose the ruling class. Mr. Biden raised the temperature further by calling Assange a high tech terrorist in his continued efforts to extradite him to the United States.
This informs us that the press isn’t only scared of the left per se, as much as they may pigeonhole Joe Biden there. The preference for Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden isn’t even about a preference for his policy, even if the press must frame it this way. What they miss about Mr. Trump, in spite of themselves, is that he made their industry profitable in a time where the only profit not in decline in America are in tech companies.
This goes to show that capitalism and democracy cannot coexist, or at least not for long. When one considers the amount of time in history the rapid decline of democracy is rather astonishing unless of course, one looks at the short-term promise of capitalism.
The media may well prefer the ideology of Mr. Biden to Mr. Trump. Both are tools of the ruling class. Only one of them openly declares a desire to destroy the media itself. Yet the media is in such crisis on its own, both from its refusal to address the bread and butter issues of the working class and from the lack of profitability within the laborious and dangerous work of journalism itself.
Therefore the media’s fate lies in the hands of the man who seeks to destroy them. Journalism’s death may not come from direct authoritarianism but rather from the capitalist mode of production. When authoritarianism is the only profitable game in town we see democracy eating itself as governments cave to corporations who provide revenue. Journalism’s death may disorientate us further but it is part of a larger trend of former democracies turning to corporations who profit from murdering their own citizens, whether it be environmental pollution, imperialism, or lack of safety in the workplace.
Capitalism above all is a social phenomenon. The mystery of the environmentally destructive cryptocurrencies generating value comes from a group of (rich) people agreeing upon valuing something made up. Likewise, democracy still exists even if the formal nature of it is being attacked. We have seen the gains by striking workers and the emissions stopped by protesters of pipelines. Democracy, like journalism, can be perilous and not profitable. However, as long as the people will it, democracy exists.
The institutional and environmental crisis is frightening but ruling classes have fallen before and will fall again. Befuddling as these times may be the ruling class has their own crisis of legitimacy. This was something they hoped they could mend under Mr. Biden. The fact that they haven’t is good news and it shows the people’s hearts still beat for something more than the contradiction of capitalist democracy.
(Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at [email protected]. This article was featured in Counter Punch.)