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The media’s finest hour
Rich Lowry
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. - photo by File photo

Poor Ron Klain.

It’s not a good sign when a White House chief of staff to a Democratic president wants to re-tweet favorable news coverage and all he can find is the least credible and most slavishly loyal commentators on the internet.

The Afghanistan fiasco has created that most disorienting and discomfiting experience for a progressive administration -- a serious bout of critical media coverage immune to White House spin and determined to tell the unvarnished story of an ongoing debacle.

The White House and its allies have lashed out at what they are portraying as an insular, pro-war media ignoring its many successes in the Afghan evacuation.

This, like Ron Klain’s tweeting, is a sign of desperation and of a feeling of outraged betrayal that usually dependable allies have, on this story, switched sides. Say it’s not so, CNN.

The White House is unfamiliar with what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the kind of media feeding frenzy that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis experiences every other day (almost always involving spurious storylines).

But on Afghanistan, Joe Biden in effect set out to test how much shameless incompetence and dishonesty the media would accept. The answer? Not nearly enough.  

The press is blatantly biased and has become even more so over time, repeatedly propagating false narratives that have shredded its credibility. Still, there are limits beyond which even it can’t be pushed.

Biden said that the Afghan withdrawal wouldn’t be another Saigon within weeks of Saigon-like scenes of a hasty evacuation of the U.S. embassy, of terrified Afghans clinging to a U.S. transport plane, of desperate Afghans passing their infants over the barbed wire to Western soldiers guarding the Kabul airport.

There is no number of look-on-the-bright-side briefings that are going to overcome these indelible images, and even a journalist who tilted heavily toward Biden in 2020 and supports his agenda was going to be hard-pressed to look away.

The contradiction in Biden’s case for withdrawal was also too stark to ignore. He originally justified his pullout because the Afghan government and military were capable of defending the country without us, then he justified his exit because the government and military collapsed so quickly. Which was it?

Much of what Biden has said in his remarks and press conferences has been vulnerable to instant fact checks. When he said that Americans weren’t having trouble getting through to the airport, reporters could immediately attest that it wasn’t true.

Who was everyone supposed to believe? Biden’s misleading assurance, or CNN reporter Clarissa Ward’s compelling report from outside the Kabul airport that she was threatened with a whip for not covering her face and her producer nearly pistol whipped? Ward said it was “mayhem” and “a miracle that more people haven’t been very, very seriously hurt.” 

The plaints from the administration and its most committed journalistic supporters that the coverage has been unfair and the product of a press biased toward interventionism ring hollow. 

It is certainly true that the East Coast media has more cosmopolitan attitudes than the rest of the country, but it’s hardly full of committed foreign policy hawks. The press didn’t notably dissent from President Barack Obama’s pullout from Iraq in 2011 or his nuclear deal with Iran. It has steadfastly favored the so-called peace process in the Middle East.

It’s not as though only the American media has noticed Biden’s ineptitude, either.

 If anything, our foreign allies have been harsher about the humiliating mess Biden has stumbled into (former British prime minister Tony Blair called it “imbecilic”) than journalists here at home.

Since he won the Democratic nomination last year, Biden has been the subject of relentless favorable press coverage forgiving his lapses and enthusiastic about his alleged accomplishments. It was hard to see what he could do to lose media support, even for a time, and then he botched his withdrawal.

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.

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