The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Isabel Macdonald
Communications Director
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Media Cheer Biden Choice

Obama's Running Mate Seen As Ratifying Conventional Wisdom


Most of the corporate media
cheered Barack Obama's selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate,
seeing the move as a signal that their well-circulated criticisms of
Obama were on point.

Since Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, many pundits have
echoed McCain campaign attacks that he is weak on foreign policy and
national security, and have highlighted Obama's supposed difficulty in
"winning over" the working-class whites who voted for Hillary Clinton. In this light, Biden has been hailed as the perfect corrective for Obama's flaws.

USA Today (8/25/08) summarized the conventional wisdom in an editorial headlined "Biden a Pragmatic Choice":

Biden is a 35-year Senate veteran who offers
qualities Obama conspicuously lacks: decades of experience, foreign
policy depth and a refreshingly direct style that contrasts well with
Obama's nuanced reserve. Instead of an outside-the-box pick that would
have electrified supporters enamored with his change-agent style, Obama
chose a solid member of the Democratic establishment who fills the
holes in his resume.

Washington Post reporter Dan Balz (8/24/08)
agreed, writing that Obama "moved to deal with two potential
weaknesses" by picking Biden, who "shores up Obama's inexperience on
national security issues." Also at the Post, David Broder (8/25/08)
cheered that "Biden brings a blue-collar sensibility that has been
lacking in Obama's campaign," and then assumed to know what Biden was
saying to Obama: "The message he surely has brought to Obama is: Your
background looks elitist to many of the people I represent. The way to
overcome that impression is to be in their neighborhoods, talk directly
to them in small groups and show them you really understand the
struggles in their lives. Biden surely does that."

Some pundits argued that, in fact, Biden was really too perfect a
complement for Obama--seeing the running mate's strengths as actually
playing up the main candidate's weaknesses. Associated Press Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier (8/23/08)
declared that "the candidate of change went with the status quo,"
writing that: "In picking Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, Barack
Obama sought to shore up his weakness--inexperience in office and on
foreign policy--rather than underscore his strength as a new-generation
candidate defying political conventions.... The question is whether
Biden's depth counters Obama's inexperience--or highlights it." That
sentiment was echoed by ABC pundit
George Will (8/24/08): "When you pick a running mate to correct a
defect in your resume, as has happened in this case, you underscore the
defect. Now, the thinness of Mr Obama's resume in foreign policy is as
clear as putty."

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (8/25/08)
likewise argued that "Biden's selection represents an implied admission
by Obama that he lacks what Biden has: foreign policy credentials." But
to Cohen--and others--it was not merely foreign policy experience:
"Biden was chosen because, in the end, he satisfied Obama's apparent
desire, if not need, to reassure those who wonder about his youth, his
race, his manner, his peripatetic childhood.... On the stump, Obama did
not need someone like himself. He felt the need for someone more

It's important to recognize that when establishment journalists talk
about Biden's foreign policy expertise, they mean that he thinks like
they do. New York Times reporters Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny (, 8/23/08) saw Biden's support for the Iraq War
as an important asset to a campaign that was launched primarily on the
candidate's opposition to the Iraq invasion: "Although he initially
voted to authorize the war--Mr. Obama has opposed the war from the
start--Mr. Biden has become a persistent critic of President Bush's
policies in Iraq. Mr. Biden would complement Mr. Obama's antiwar
position in the general election match-up against Senator John McCain,
the likely Republican nominee, who has supported the war." Being for
the war when the media were in the tank as well makes him a valuable
"complement" to a candidate who has been, from corporate media's point
of view, suspiciously consistent in his opposition to the war.

The AP's Fournier similarly
noted: "Biden brings a lot to the table. An expert on national
security, the Delaware senator voted in 2002 to authorize military
intervention in Iraq but has since become a vocal critic of the
conflict." For the media, a politician's national security credentials
are enhanced and not diminished by early support for the war, because
that's the position that was taken by "serious" people (like media

Biden's credentials are likewise little diminished in the media's eyes
by his speaking style, widely acknowledged to be long-winded and prone
to the occasional gaffe-some of which strike alarmingly racist chords.
At the start of his own candidacy, Biden said of Obama's candidacy (New York Observer interview, 1/31/07), "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Biden later tried to explain to the Washington Post (10/25/07)
why public schools in Iowa did not have the same problems as schools in
Washington, D.C.: "There's less than 1 percent of the population of
Iowa that is African-American. There is probably less than 4 or 5
percent that are minorities. What is it in Washington? So look, it goes
back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with." Biden
spokespeople would later explain that his comments were about
socioeconomic status, not race.

In June 2006, Biden commented (C-SPAN, 6/17/06)
that in his home state of Delaware, "You cannot go to a 7-11 or a
Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.... I'm not

Despite the record, pundits seem willing to give Biden a pass. As the Post's
Broder wrote, "Biden has an unpublicized side as an urban politician.
His imprint has been heavy on all the anti-crime legislation passed in
the past two decades, and his civil rights credentials are impeccable."
ABC's Cokie Roberts seemed to concur
(8/24/08): "If Joe Biden were sitting at this table, we'd all be having
a wonderful time with him. He's a nice guy. He's fun to be with. One of
the reasons he gets in trouble is because he does speak frankly to us
and to the American people which sometimes is a problem for him." Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter explained (9/1/08)
that "Joe Biden's stereotyping Indian-Americans at a convenience store
or calling Obama 'clean' and 'articulate' did no lasting harm because
no one ever accused Biden of being a racist. Stories don't grow in
barren soil."

Alter made this observation in a column wondering why some storylines
stick and others don't; the obvious answer is that journalists make
those decisions. In this case, Biden's bigotry is deemed irrelevant by
a press corps that rarely finds bigotry to be relevant. (Biden and
Alter, along with numerous political and media bigwigs, were regular
guests on the race-baiting Don Imus Show-see FAIR Action Alert, 4/9/07.)
Obama's supposed foreign policy deficit, on the other hand, is not
"barren soil" for corporate pundits--because he was right about Iraq
when they were wrong, and that is troubling.

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.