May 16, 2024

A Cynical Washington Post Tells Biden: Nothing Matters More Than Beating Trump

“Trim your principles, Democrats, and pander away,” the Post advises Biden and his party.

Joe Kahn, the executive editor of The New York Times, acknowledged in a recent interview with Semafor that “there’s a very good chance” Donald Trump could win the presidential election with a majority of the popular vote this fall. But “it is not the job of the news media to prevent that from happening,” Kahn declared, and the Times will not avoid covering issues like immigration and inflation just “because they’re favorable to Trump.” To do otherwise would mean to become “an instrument of the Biden campaign” — to publish a “stream of stuff that’s very, very favorable to them and only write negative stories about the other side.”

Of course the Times leans well to the left and many of its journalists revile Trump. All the more reason, then, for Kahn to emphasize that it is not the newspaper’s responsibility to ensure a Republican defeat. The Times may — the Times does — often fail to resist its liberal bias. Nonetheless, its highest-ranking news editor deserves credit for articulating the principle that the paper ought to uphold.

Now consider the principle articulated by The Washington Post opinion section.

Last week, the Post’s editorial board — which speaks with the institutional voice of the newspaper — declared that it regards President Biden’s reelection in November as a matter of such importance that it will not fault him for promoting misbegotten policies that are designed to attract votes. The president’s policies “clearly pander to core constituencies,” the editorial board conceded, and “some of these policies are quite bad — even dangerous.” Other pandering by the White House may be “less obviously dangerous but still violates common sense and principle.”

For example, the Post cites the president’s refusal to approve a ban on menthol cigarettes. The editorial board has strongly supported such a ban, which it maintains would save tens of thousands of mostly Black lives. But as a political matter, it knows that if the White House were to issue the ban, the Democrats would lose a significant number of voters “whom Mr. Biden can ill afford to alienate in this close election.” And since “Mr. Trump’s reelection is the kind of nightmare scenario any responsible politician would go to great lengths to prevent,” the Post concludes that it is responsible, or at least acceptable, for Biden to let those deaths occur rather than weaken his odds of reelection. “Democrats are scrapping for every vote,” the editorial asserts, so this is no time to be fastidious about matters of principle, or about right and wrong.

In a lifetime of newspaper reading, I have never encountered an editorial so cynical in its willingness to discard any principle other than to win at all costs. “Trim your principles, Democrats, and pander away,” the Post advises Biden and his party. To “play Machiavelli” isn’t the worst thing, it says — the worst thing is “losing.”

Politicians and political operatives have long had a reputation for being devious and conniving. In the quest for power, there have always been some who will stop at nothing. Candidates in an election season don’t have to be convinced to engage in pandering, logrolling, or other varieties of political sleaziness. They often have to be convinced not to. And one of the key functions of newspaper editorials is to constantly remind public officials that they are being watched and judged and held to a high standard.

On its editorial page website, The Washington Post declares its fidelity to “principles that have animated Post Editorial Boards over time.” Yet now it advises Biden to trim his principles and “pander away,” because anything is better than the “nightmare scenario” of a Trump victory. Having thus identified itself not just as a Biden loyalist but as a whatever-it-takes Biden loyalist, the Post has not made its views more convincing. Nor has it enhanced its reputation for careful judgment. Instead it has advertised to its readers that its highest commitment now is to Biden’s reelection. To be sure, that is its prerogative. But when the election is over and the Post wants its credibility back, it may regret having tossed it away.

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