What Did The Media Know (And When Did They Know It)?

At Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene raises a point that has largely been ignored in the revelation about President Biden’s cognitive decline. What about the media?

Now let’s turn to the media. The media’s job should be to inform the public about what’s actually going on in the government. Certainly that should be so with regard to the cognitive abilities of the President.

After the New York Times editorial calling for Biden to step aside, many were complaining that the Times never called for Trump to step aside. It’s a foolish response and comparison. There is nothing about Trump that was unknown before, as he’s always been the same vulgar, deceitful, narcissistic ignoramus and it’s been obvious for all to see. Whether his supporters care is another matter, but there has never been any question about who and what he is.

At the same time, the NYT has published thousands of words decrying Trump, from op-eds to editorials to columns to slanted news articles. There is no argument to be made that the media has been overly kind to Trump. There is no argument to be made that Trump’s failings have been ignored. If anything, they’ve been beaten to death.

But what played out on our TV screens at the debate was new. As in “news” new. After we were assured that Biden was as sharp as ever, not the most rousing endorsement but not senile dementia either, we saw otherwise.

Has the media done a good job of honestly informing the public of this? Was it doing a good job of reporting the problems (or at least accurately predicting them, if you think Biden has taken a sharp turn for the worse in the last few months) when the reporting would still have been relevant to the Democratic primary elections?

Either the media (not just the few outlets that assiduously reported on this question, but the media generally) learned of Biden’s decline the night of the debate, when the rest of us did, or they knew it all along. If they learned it that night, what does that tell you about them? If they knew it all along, what does that tell you? Is either answer anything good?

Much is made in the media about reporting with “moral clarity,” which unfortunately means to many that it is their duty to deceive to assure the readers receive the “correct” impression of the news. Unfortunate facts are left out, changed or spun for the sake of not leaving readers to make up their own minds, lest they arrive at the conclusion the writers believe to be morally incorrect.

Then again, the media was largely engaged in a conspiracy to keep FDR’s polio disabilities from the public eye. One can certainly argue that the two are not analogous, as a president’s ability to walk is not comparable to his ability to think. And with FDR, there is little doubt that the media was well aware of the president’s infirmity and made a decision to keep it private.

Did the media know that Biden was in cognitive decline? Did the media know that he had better moments and worse? Did they make a decision not to show it, or to spin it so as to minimize any public concern that the guy in charge was only capable of doing a part-time job?

There is an obvious argument to be made that, outside of a handful of hard-core right wing media outlets, the media despises Trump and will do whatever it can to assure Trump’s loss in November. Did that mean concealing the reality that Biden, whom we were assured was still fit for the job, was not?

As Eugene notes, it’s possible that the media didn’t really know the extent of Biden’s cognitive decline and learned about it when the rest of us did. It’s not as if Biden did press conferences where unscripted questions could be hurled at him with abandon. The few interviews he did were mostly softballs thrown with velvet gloves.

It’s worth remembering that cognitive decline isn’t an all or nothing proposition. It does not mean that Biden is a drooling fool, incapable of speech or thought, and it certainly doesn’t mean that given time and opportunity, he can’t reason through his policy choices, for better or worse. Given extra time and the right conditions, Biden may still be able to process with the best of them, or at least better than Trump on his best day.

But is that good enough? Is that a question for the media to decide or the voters? Did the media decide that the voters might make the wrong decision and shouldn’t be trusted with the truth?

15 thoughts on “What Did The Media Know (And When Did They Know It)?

  1. Drew Conlin

    I may have mentioned this before. The alternative to bad isn’t necessarily good. It can always get worse. But President Joe Biden cannot run for re-election. Few expected that to be the takeaway from the debate, but outside of the most partisan holes of denial, last night made two things clear. Biden cannot win. Biden is no longer capable of serving as president.*
    Simple Justice June 28, 2024
    You said it yourself ( regarding last question )

  2. hal

    OT1H, complete objectivity is unattainable/ impossible and some measure of advocacy on the part of those who are especially well informed may be desirable/ benefical.

    OTOH, there seems to be a blind adherence to “the approved narrative” of a given outlet w/ little regard for any inconvenient evidence that catradicts, or even calls into question, the veracity of said narrative.

  3. Ray

    How could anyone, let alone the media, not know of the mental decline. Just go back to when the Hur report issued and the presidential address/press conference that immediately followed. What we all witnessed at the debate should have come as no surprise to anyone.

  4. Elpey P.

    It’s worse as yesterday’s column showed. The media has moved from the “It’s not happening” stage to “It’s happening but it’s not a big deal” with only a small speed bump, and are now on their way to “The people freaking out about it happening are the problem.”

  5. Richard Parker

    This has not been “largely ignored”. It’s been the first thought for tens of millions of us since the debate ended. Of course, the media is not going to tell on itself.

    My half-nuts niece has been correct all along mumbling about “conspiracies”. Smarter than me.

  6. DaveL

    learned of Biden’s decline the night of the debate, when the rest of us did

    I’m sorry, I can’t let this one pass. Nobody found out about this for the first time during last week’s debate. Evidence has been mounting for some time that Biden was in decline, and that recently it’s been getting bad. To pretend this all came as a shock is to indulge in the same pretense as the media.

    1. PK

      I didn’t know how bad it is, and I’m still trying to convince myself it was just a particularly bad day. He looks and sounds better at speeches I’ve seen. Maybe they didn’t shoot him up with whatever “vitamin” shot this time when they absolutely should have? I might be grasping, but I’m certainly not pretending.

      1. PML

        Anyone who has ever dealt with a person that has the beginnings of Alzheimer’s would recognize that as sundowning. The are good during the day but go down hill in the evening.

        During daytime he is mostly ok. Later they are totally different.

  7. B. McLeod

    Of course the media knew, and concealed it. Beyond the impact on the election is the point that Kamala Harris, as Vice President, really should have succeeded to the presidency before now. The continued effort by the party to prop up Biden as a figurehead is as much an effort to stymie constitutional succession as to oppose the election of Trump. Because they hate Harris, and they are afraid she would assert her authority rather than serving as a malleable puppet. It is palace intrigue of the highest magnitude.

  8. JD

    Half the country saw it in 2019 and 2020. We were branded as tin foil hat fake news maggots who got all our news from Fox. Some even suggested we needed to be re-educated.

    I think the real question is why the other half the country didn’t see it. Many on this side are smart and educated, yet they could not see the obvious. Its not easy to accept that the media, which up until recently would more or less report the news, no longer does so. It reports the position its viewers need to accept.

    As you pointed out, correctly, the obvious answer is the media saw it but covered due to its anti Trump bias. Maybe. Or perhaps the anti Trump bias is merely a symptom of a bigger issue, that the medias has lost all objectivity and now has an agenda all of its own. One that is extreme left and woe to the democrats who are not left enough.

    There’s a lot less of a divide in this country than it seems, dare I say there are good people on both sides?

    The problem is almost entirely with the media.

  9. C. Dove


    If I may indulge the proximity to Tuesday, I’d like to offer something outside of the more seasoned music videos featured in the comments but otherwise with a fair amount of relevance to the post. The lyrics, while easily enough located online for those who feel the need to read, should be clear enough from the music.

    [Ed. Note: Fine. Just this once.]

  10. S. King

    So lawyers are able to diagnose a patient they have not examined even if they were somehow qualified to do so?

    Like those comments that begin with “I am not a lawyer” at least Eugene Volokh points out his lack of medical expertise.

    At this point in time far too many of us have had a relative with dementia that doesn’t make you or me an expert.

    Please quit diagnosing people you have never met.


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