Gregory Shaya long ago described the failures of the modern era of the media. The Myth of the Fourth Estate (excerpt):

The faith in the press as the guardian of truth, the watchdog of power, the foundation of democracy—in brief, the fourth estate—lies at the heart of the liberal imagination of the west. It is the principle enshrined in the First Amendment, nestled in between freedom of religion and the freedom of assembly. “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen—adopted in 1789, the same year that the Bill of Rights was submitted for ratification—was loftier and more circumspect. “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.” These foundational statements paid homage to the same dream. “Where the press is free and every man able to read,” Thomas Jefferson explained, “all is safe.”


Flash forward to the present day—to our age of Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, Rupert Murdoch, the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, media consolidation, the waning circulations of the daily press, etc., etc.—and the heroic vision of the press seems to have lost its shine. A Gallup poll from 2010 found that 57% of Americans surveyed have little or no trust in the media to accurately report the news, a record high. If the public is down on the fourth estate, the fourth estate can’t be feeling so good about the public. Our citizenry is more eager to remain well informed about Kim Kardashian’s marital woes than the latest conditions in Fallujah or the intricacies of our health care system. Oscar Wilde wrote—in another day, to be sure, but his words still resonate—that “the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

The television media failed its role as the watchdog of democracy last week. At our moment of greatest peril since the Civil War, a nation under siege from another white supremacist insurrection, the MAGA/QAnon personality cult of Donald Trump who attempted a violent coup d’état on January 6, 2021, the first such coup d’état in American history, the television networks aired their usual escapist fare rather than televise the President of the United States warning of this dire threat to American democracy. Would they have done the same to Abraham Lincoln in 1861? (Of course they would have).

Ted Johnson reports at Deadline, Broadcast Networks Pass On Carrying Joe Biden’s Primetime Speech — Update:

Broadcast networks passed on carrying Joe Biden’s speech in Philadelphia, as the president cast MAGA Republicans as a threat to democracy.

ABC ran Press Your Luck, CBS went with a Young Sheldon rerun and NBC with a Law & Order replay. CNN and MSNBC carried the address, as did news division streaming channels, but Fox News stuck with Tucker Carlson and his critique of the speech as it was happening.

Biden, appearing against the backdrop of Independence Hall [“where it all began“], argued that MAGA Republicans were embracing extremism.

“They promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence,” Biden said.

In his speech, Biden said that not every Republican embraces the ideology, maybe not even a majority do, but he said that Donald Trump was driving the party.

A central theme of Biden’s speech was Republicans refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, something that drove Trump’s supporters to storm the Capitol on January 6th. Trump this week demanded that he be reinstated as president.

“Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election — either they win, or they were cheated,” Biden said. “Either they win, or they were cheated, and that’s where the MAGA Republicans are today.”

Veteran CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood put his career on the line to speak truth to the American people. Rather than be celebrated like Edward R. Murrow for speaking truth to power to Joseph McCarthy’s reign of terror, it cost Harwood his job. ‘Donald Trump made Joe Biden’s point for him’: John Harwood drop kicks Republicans and then quits CNN:

Veteran CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood abruptly resigned from the network on Friday shortly after he unloaded on critics of President Joe Biden’s primetime Thursday night speech in which Biden warned the American people of the existential and imminent dangers that former President Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again movement pose to the United States.

Democrats “are standing by the message that President Biden offered. Of course it was a political speech. We’re in a midterm reelection year. The issues that he’s talking about are inherently political,” Harwood said on the air while standing outside of the White House.

“But I think it’s also important to say that the core point he made in that political speech about a threat to democracy is true,” he continued. “Now that is something that is not easy for us as journalists to say. We’re brought up to believe there’s two different political parties with different points of view and we don’t take sides in honest disagreements between them. But that’s not what we are talking about. These are honest disagreements.”

Harwood then threw down the gauntlet on Trump’s right-wing cheerleaders:

The Republican party right now is led by a dishonest demagogue. Many, many Republicans are rallying behind his lies about the 2020 election and other things as well. And a significant portion, or a sufficient portion of the constituency that they’re leading attacked the Capitol on January 6th. Violently.

By offering pardons or suggesting pardons for those people who violently attacked the Capitol, which you’ve been pointing out numerous times this morning, Donald Trump made Joe Biden’s point for him.

Less than two hours later, precisely at noon, Harwood tweeted that he is leaving CNN:

Personal news: today’s my last day at CNN proud of the work thanks to my colleagues i’ve been lucky to serve the best in American media – St. Petersburg Times, WSJ, NYT, the NBC family, CNN look forward to figuring out what’s next.

The print media always does a better job, but only you and I still read print media.

Jonathan Alter writes ae hos Old Goats substck, Biden at the Barricades:

“You are either with us, or with the terrorists.”

That’s how President George W. Bush framed the challenge just after 9/11. Bush went on to make some terrible decisions, including to invade a country—Iraq—that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack on the United States. But at the time, the clarity of those words was bracing.

Now, 21 years later, President Biden has done something similar in response to today’s threat. He has properly framed the great political challenge of our time, not just for the 2022 and 2024 elections but through at least the middle part of the 21st Century, when Donald Trump’s cult followers will still be roaming the land.

Biden was basically saying, You are either with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that were written just behind me—that’s “us”—or you are with the political terrorists who use fear and threats of violence to get their way. There’s no middle ground.

[B]iden did [a] fine speech. He finally recognized that his gauzy message of unity was obsolete amid the Democracy Crisis (and yes, let’s start capitalizing it). So he jettisoned it in favor of the unvarnished truth.

When Biden first started calling Trumpsters “MAGA Republicans,” I thought it was too soft and abstract. I was wrong. The term simultaneously recognizes that the threat will last longer than Trump himself and leaves room for respecting patriotic Republicans. It will live in the American political lexicon forever.

It doesn’t matter that most TV viewers were watching Press Your Luck, Young Sheldon ora Law and Order rerun, or that much of the press dismissed the speech as a political pep rally, or that the usual rightwing blowhards were projecting again with their nonsense about Biden being the bad guy. The president hammered the new frame into a wall, where it will hang just fine:

“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution.  They do not believe in the rule of law.  They do not recognize the will of the people.”

“The Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.”

In early August, Biden met with a group of historians. They drew his attention to two other historic inflection points: 1860, when Abraham Lincoln ran for president after warning that “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” and 1940, a period described by historian Lynn Olson as “those angry days,” when emotions ran so high for and against intervention to stop Hitler that Arthur Schlesinger later said it was the most bitter struggle of his lifetime—worse than McCarthyism or fights over the Vietnam War.

I take no comfort from those historical analogies because both were only resolved by violence. In 1861, Southerners refused to accept Lincoln’s election and launched the Civil War. And in 1941, it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—not FDR’s speeches about the importance of democracy—that ended the acrimony over intervention.

This time, we need to protect democracy peacefully. That means exercising it in the courtroom—by proving that even presidents aren’t above the law—and at the ballot box, where a big turnout can save the day. “We need everyone to do their part,” Biden said. “So speak up. Speak out. Get engaged. Vote, vote, vote.” It’s like the principle of fighting bad speech with good speech. The only way to defend democracy is to extend democracy.

This won’t be easy, and not just because the Orange Menace has the survival skills of a feral animal. As Biden put it, MAGA Republicans believe it’s “either we win or we were cheated.” A crisis that began with one megalomaniac’s refusal before the 2020 election to commit to the peaceful transfer of power has become the animating principle of what was once the party of Lincoln.

Biden’s speech should help Democrats build on their momentum this fall. His aim is not persuasion but mobilization—to place democracy itself on the ballot so that so-called “sporadic” Democratic voters (who usually vote only quadrennially), elusive independents and patriotic Republicans (about 20-30 percent of the GOP are pro-democracy) understand that this is not just another boring midterm election. Even if voters don’t like him, Biden reasoned, they like Trump less, and fear giving MAGA Republicans the keys to the car. In a new NBC News poll, “threats to democracy” passed inflation as the number one issue for voters in both parties—69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans placed it first. Of the latter, it’s hard to know how many are Liz Cheney Republicans and how many are more of the Kari Lake fascist variety, who believe “threats” are indistinguishable from “Democrats.” 

A Biden-Trump rematch, in absentia, since neither is on the ballot in 2022, looks good for Democrats. Biden leads Trump by six points in a new Wall Street Journal poll, which also shows independents trending toward the Democrats. That’s because wedge politics—using an emotional issue to energize supporters and divide the other party—works, even in an uncertain economy. It was once a Republican speciality. Now the Big Wedge is wielded by Democrats. It seems that democracy, of all things, has the potential to deliver some stinging losses to the GOP.

An instinct for democracy can also help create unscripted, authentic moments that people remember. When a protester in Philadelphia first started shouting at the president through a bullhorn, I was hoping someone would politely escort him out of earshot. Biden knew better. He deftly incorporated the heckling into his message: “They’re entitled to be outrageous. This is a democracy.” And then he tapped into the sense of decency that powers the pro-democracy movement: “Good manners is nothing they’ve ever suffered from.” Perfect.

Contrast that to Trump shouting at his 2016 rallies, “Get him the hell out of here! Get him out of here! Throw him out!” in Alabama or “I’d like to punch him in the face” in Las Vegas, where he reminisced, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

Unfortunately, Biden missed a chance to drive home an even sharper contrast. At one point, he said, “They [MAGA Republicans] look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th — brutally attacking law enforcement — not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots.”

This would have been the perfect place to refer to Trump saying earlier in the day on a rightwing radio show that if he’s reelected, he will offer “full pardons with an apology to many” of the insurrectionists. Pardons to people convicted of viciously assaulting Capitol police officers? This will be a great issue for Democrats. It crystallizes Trump’s contempt for law enforcement and lack of patriotism. As Biden explained, ”You can’t love your country only when you win.”

The president was right to strike a hopeful tone. Even when it rang false (“I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future”), he grasped the importance of connecting Americans to our idealized version of ourselves.

For years, Biden has ended his speeches by saying “And may God protect our troops.” Now, with the war in Afghanistan over and a new crisis looming at home, he has amended that. He concluded the most important speech of his presidency this way:

“And may God protect our nation. And may God protect all those who stand watch over our democracy. God bless you all.”

Then one final word:


And to all those MAGA/QAnon “semi-fascists” expressing faux outrage at being called out for whom they know they are, and whining that President Biden should apologize: “As if, ain’t happening.” Dana Milbank sarcastically writes at the Washington Post, Dear Insurrectionists and Fascists: I’m sorry I offended you:

Who knew strongmen were so fragile? [Snowflakes!]

The insurrectionists of Jan. 6 busted into the Capitol, hit police with fire extinguishers, flagpoles, bats, stun guns and pepper spray; they threatened to kill the vice president and tried to overthrow the 2020 election. And now, they want an apology.

MAGA Republican leaders have fomented violence, attacked the rule of law and deceived tens of millions of people into rejecting the outcome of free and fair elections. And now, they, too, want an apology.

I’m sorry, but these authoritarians have some terribly tender egos. They need to pull themselves up by their own jackboot-straps.

On Thursday, the very day President Biden spoke from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall pleading with Americans to “stop the assault on American democracy,” former president Donald Trump called for reparations for those who assaulted democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump told a right-wing radio host that, if he returns to power, he plans “full pardons with an apology to many” who attacked the Capitol.

He also claimed he is “financially supporting” some of those charged in the insurrection to defend them from “sick” prosecutors and “nasty” judges. Oath Keepers? Proud Boys? Unclear. He didn’t say which insurrectionists he’s bankrolling.

Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner tweeted: Donald Trump Claims He’s Providing Financial Support to Insurrectionists AND Pledges to Pardon Them If Elected President. Legally, That’s “Giving Aid & Comfort”.

Hours later, [Traitor] Kevin McCarthy, in Scranton, Pa., gave a prebuttal of Biden’s democracy speech in which the House Republican leader demanded that Biden apologize to MAGA Republicans for calling their ideology “semi-fascism.” “The first lines out of his mouth should be to apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists,” McCarthy said.

Of course, Biden’s semi-fascism remark was directed at MAGA leaders such as Trump and McCarthy — not the masses they’ve hornswoggled with their anti-democratic lies. But McCarthy used a classic fascist tool: casting the powerful in-group as the persecuted.

McCarthy has tried this move before. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called McCarthy a “moron” last year over his objections to pandemic mask-wearing, he tried to sell T-shirts that said “Moron” in big letters and (falsely) claimed Pelosi had applied the label to all “freedom loving Americans.”

Is there no limit to the authoritarians’ hurt feelings? Insurrectionists are victims. Fascists are victims. Even right-wing fashion victims are victims. A new outlet calling itself “The Conservateur” just published an equine-themed fashion spread of Lara Trump, showing her atop a horse, barefoot, wearing a “gauze gown belted with clustered pearls.” Complains the Conservateur: “Despite her beauty and accomplishments … Lara was never interviewed by Vanity Fair, Elle, Marie Claire or any of the other fashion and lifestyle magazines.”

As the unauthorized spokesman for fashion magazines, I humbly and unreservedly apologize to the former president’s daughter-in-law for this unforgivable oversight.

While I’m apologizing, let me offer one to the insurrectionists, as Trump demanded:

I regret that the heads and bodies of police officers got in the way of your truncheons and flagpoles while you were engaging in Legitimate Political Discourse at the Capitol. I hope that you didn’t hurt your fingers while gouging their eyes, and that their blood didn’t stain your tactical assault gear; if it did, please send me the dry-cleaning bill! I am so sorry that, on your Normal Tourist Visit, you didn’t get to use your noose or all the guns stockpiled at the Comfort Inn in Alexandria. Please forgive me for previously quibbling with your plan to “hang Mike Pence” and your use of the Confederate flag in the halls of Congress. I apologize that you had to break windows and doors, climb scaffolding and rappel into the Senate chamber. My bad! Next time you want to overthrow an American election, just knock.

And here’s an apology to the semi-fascists, as McCarthy demanded:

I’m so sorry you’ve convinced millions of people to believe the egregious lie that the 2020 election was stolen. I’m sorry you are making heroes of the criminals who attacked our seat of government. I’m sorry you’re currently fomenting violence against the FBI and the IRS. I’m sorry you’re passing laws giving yourselves more power to overthrow the 2024 election results if you lose, and I’m sorry you’re nominating candidates committed to doing so. I’m sorry you don’t like it when the Justice Department enforces the law and protects national security. I’m sorry you’ve lionized Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, and I’m sorry you say that the Democratic Party, not Vladimir Putin’s Russia, is the real enemy. I regret that you’ve taken awaywomen’s rights. I regret that you’re banning books and censoring history lessons. I regret that you are shunning science, expertise and the truth. Above all, I’m truly sorry that, because of such things, Biden called you semi-fascists. There’s really nothing “semi” about it.

Shorter bumper sticker version: “Fuck off, Fascists!