Breaking from the Journal: Kev McCarthy and Mike Johnson Say Biden’s WAY Old

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When I was mulling the WaPo news last night, I noticed a link to an article in the Journal on President Biden’s purported cognitive decline. I glanced at it with a mix of emotions and in a moment I had a flash of clarity about the larger question of newspapers, Britishization and oligarchdom. I realized that in spite of myself I’ve stuck with an unmerited inertia to the idea that the Journal still maintains a high firewall between its news and editorial pages, even though I know, partly from inside accounts, how radically that changed after Murdoch purchased the Journal going on 20 years ago.

I read the piece and I noticed right away, but had to go back and make sure I was understanding the circumlocutions, that this purported deep dive on Biden’s slipping leads off with the accounts of two people: Speaker Mike Johnson and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. There are some efforts to fuzz that up with Johnson since you have to piece together the meaning of the sourcing. (It’s based on the accounts of “six people told at the time about what Johnson said had happened” during a one-on-one meeting between Biden and Johnson. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) About ten paragraphs in it notes in passing that of the more than 45 people the reporters spoke to for the piece over several months “most of those who said Biden performed poorly were Republicans.”

The use of Johnson and McCarthy as the two main fact witnesses is extraordinary on a few levels. The first and most obvious is that “Biden archrivals currently running against him say he’s way old and losing his edge” doesn’t have quite the punch of the article as presented. The other is that Biden famously managed to overmatch McCarthy in the debt ceiling negotiations that led to his fall from power and Biden’s personal lobbying seems to have played a key role in the eventual passage of Ukraine aid this spring. In other words, if Biden’s really losing it, he still managed to handle both guys pretty well.

What was most surprising to me though is that if you really had the goods on Biden or really logged a lot of quality interviews for such a piece, why on earth would you sandbag it by leading with the say-so of Mike Johnson and Kevin McCarthy, two of his biggest political foes who have the clearest of motives for playing the doddering codger card which is a centerpiece of their campaigns? You simply don’t do that if you want your piece to read as credible to a critical reader outside the Murdoch news bubble. Unless, that is, that’s really all you’ve got. And even then it doesn’t even really make sense.

I don’t think I come to this story with crazy expectations. Having recently turned 55 I do not know anyone a day over 80 who is as spry as they were at 50 or 60. But if this is what they’re able to come up with, I’m somewhat reassured.

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