By Justin Anderson, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
April 28, 2019
Joe Biden finally announced on Thursday what everyone already knew. With the release of a three-and-a-half minute promotional video, the former vice president officially threw his name in the ever-expanding ring of Democratic primary contenders seeking to win the opportunity to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency in 2020. Biden has already seen his share of coverage, and was the second-most-mentioned Democratic candidate on cable news during the first three months of 2019.
Biden has pledged that his 2020 campaign won’t take in any direct donations from lobbyists. But on the first night of his official candidacy, Biden hit the suburbs of Philadelphia to attend a $2,800 per person fundraiser at the home of David L. Cohen, the executive vice president and chief of lobbying for Comcast.
Comcast, one of the biggest lobbying spenders in Washington, also owns MSNBC, which has showered Biden with favorable coverage both before and since his announcement.
In March, Nevada lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Lucy Flores published an article in New York Magazine (3/29/19) that described how Biden inappropriately kissed her at a campaign event. Biden has quite a long history of awkward and inappropriate touching, kissing or groping of women and girls.
Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, was one of the first to defend Biden (4/1/19). Brzezinski suggested that Flores’ allegation was politically motivated, citing Flores as a “huge Bernie person,” and asking, “Are we just supposed to take all the words and the fact she said she was violated at face value?” Her guests later that day (4/1/19), former DCCC chief of staff Adrienne Elrod and former CIA and DoD chief of staff Jeremy Bash, seemed to agree that such #MeToo accusations against Biden were “meaningless moments,” and merely baseless finger-pointing from Biden’s political opponents.
Brzezinski continued her defense of Biden the following day and later in the week on Morning Joe, after another woman came forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior (4/2/19, 4/5/19). Brzezinski said that the allegations were “sad,” and that Biden is a “nice guy” and “not a predator.” She continued:
This is ridiculous. The conversation has gotten out of control, and Democrats and those on the left who want to tweet me today and go nuts and get all woke, you’re eating your young. You’re eating those who can beat Trump. You’re killing the very people who have been pushing women ahead, who’ve been fighting for equal pay, who have been doing everything they can to respect women in their lives. We’re going to after Joe Biden for being affectionate to women of all ages, and to men as well? It’s ridiculous.
While he is indeed a frontrunner, defense of Biden as supposedly the only candidate with the ability to beat Trump is frequently parroted by many corporate Democrats (and by totally, definitely well-meaning Republican Party figures as well). MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle recently re-upped this trope (4/24/19) on the day of Biden’s announcement, though to his credit, Axios’ Jim Vandehei did push back on this narrative.
On another Morning Joe panel (4/26/19), MSNBC correspondent Rev. Al Sharpton criticized Biden’s role in drafting and sponsoring the 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1994 crime bills, and his treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Biden recently issued a half-apology phone call 28 years after the fact to Hill, who told the New York Times (4/25/19) that the call “left her feeling deeply unsatisfied.” (Biden continued to dance around giving a full-throated apology to Hill in an appearance on The View—4/26/19.) But despite Sharpton’s misgivings about Biden’s history, he maintained that Biden somehow had the “equipment despite the hurdles” to appeal to both “blue collar white workers” and “black and brown communities.”
On the same program, Joe Scarborough castigated Biden detractors, maintaining that they failed to understand the context of Biden’s past support for harsh drug laws, opposition to school integration and support for the Iraq War. He later added that “it’s easy for you to sit there behind your laptop, drinking your soy lattes in 2019 judging [him] for trying to make the country better.” Sharpton chimed in with further attacks on so-called “latte liberators” and “limousine liberals.”
But despite his folksiness (Extra!, 4/13), if there is anyone who serves the interests of financial giants who spend most of their time in limousines, it’s Joe Biden. Since the late 1970s, Biden has been the chief defender of the Delaware-based credit card industry in Congress, and played a crucial role in the passage of the 2005 bankruptcy law, which made it harder for Americans to wipe out and restructure unreasonable debts through Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Indeed, credit card company MBNA (formerly owned by Bank of America) was Biden’s second-largest donor throughout his Senate career. When Biden drafted the original version of the bankruptcy bill in 2000, he was strongly opposed by then-Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who was integral in getting the Clinton administration to block its passage. Biden has also been a consistent supporter of further financial deregulation, such as the Gramm-Bliley-Leach Act, which has been pointed to as a partial cause of the 2008 financial collapse.
Yet Biden’s extremely checkered political history, where he was consistently on the wrong sides of issues like women’s rights, racial equality, financial regulation, drugs and criminal justice, surveillance and war, still doesn’t seem to be enough for the media to deem him damaged goods. In fact, outlets like MSNBC still play up Biden as the most viable candidate, despite the fact that there are others with similarly long tenures in politics who didn’t make Biden’s same mistakes.
Earlier in the year, Alex Altman came on MSNBC to praise Biden’s “electability” (2/21/19), while this week Steve Kornacki devoted a whole segment to prove just how “electable” Joe Biden is for the Democrats in a 2020 matchup against Trump (4/25/19). No other candidate, not even the other front runners, received such a segment from the network.
Indeed, calling Biden the most “electable” candidate is really just code for the most “moderate” or white candidate. Such a designation for Biden discounts the appeal of candidates who are left-wing, female or people of color. In particular, left-wing candidates like Bernie Sanders (the other frontrunner) and Elizabeth Warren are each frequently dogged in corporate media by accusations that they are somehow not “electable” enough.
There is perhaps an underlying logic to these attacks. Warren and Sanders have each called for heightened antitrust regulation. (Amy Klobuchar and Corey Booker have also called for increased antitrust enforcement, but are bit more tepid on the issue than Sanders and Warren.) Big tech companies, agricultural conglomerates, food and beverage companies, banks and telecom companies like Comcast would surely come under the antitrust microscope and be targeted for breakups if one of these candidates were to win the Democratic nomination. Comcast in particular stands out as a major target, considering they have interests in both media content production as well as distribution.
Comcast, along with other internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon and AT&T, hold what are essentially regional monopolies, where they very rarely directly compete with one another in a given area. As of 2017, almost 80 percent of US households have access to just a single ISP that offers broadband speeds of over 100 mbps. This has a striking impact on US internet users: The nation has just the 20th fastest average internet speed in the world, and, according to the FCC, US consumers pay more for broadband than most other comparable countries. Of course, ISPs are also famous for their unmatched customer service record–Comcast ranks as one of America’s most hatedcompanies year in and year out, along with many other ISPs.
Much of the power of Comcast and other telecom companies to maintain their monopolies can be attributed to the revolving door that shuffles telecom lobbyists in and out of government positions. The current FCC chair, Ajit Pai, is the former general counsel for Verizon, while its past chair, Tom Wheeler, was a longtime telecom industry lobbyist for trade groups with connections to Comcast. Meredeth Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner under Obama, joined Comcast just four months after giving the greenlight for Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal. The acquisition marked the beginning of other vertical mergers between content distributors and content producers, including AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN.
During his Senate career, Biden was far from a hawk on antitrust, supporting antitrust exemptionsfor the soda industry after receiving donations from Coca-Cola. Judging by the Obama administration’s extremely lax antitrust approach, a hypothetical Biden administration would follow the same friendly approach towards corporate interests. Biden hasn’t stayed away from discussing the issue of antitrust so far in his campaign, but he has remarked that big corporations shouldn’t be “singled out.” At a speech last year to the Brookings Institution, he remarked, “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.”
Such deference to massive and unpopular corporate monopolies is anathema to both a healthy economy and contrary to the views of most Americans. But potential antitrust targets like Comcastand AT&T have the ability to manufacture positive press for pro-corporate water carriers like Biden through their news properties. Powerful executives like Comcast’s David Cohen might not be shooting out daily emails to MSNBC staff ordering them to promote Biden’s candidacy, but employees will often gravitate towards what their employers want. After all, they are well aware who signs the checks.
Likewise, top MSNBC news personalities exist within the same elite circle of Washington insiders that Biden has inhabited for the past 40 years–in just about every one of the aforementioned segments, one host or guest remarked on their personal relationship with Joe Biden. The insider DC cocktail party circuit doesn’t contain very many people who want to attack their corporate benefactors.
It’s notable that even before its acquisition by Comcast, MSNBC had a history of tacking to the rightand a distinct reluctance to challenge entrenched corporate interests. What’s more, the network devotes little interest to economic policy, let alone antitrust, preferring to spend most of its timecovering Russiagate.
However, this could change. Since entering the race, Biden has been subject to criticism from his left flank, and will likely remain a target. Sanders recently fired shots at Biden in a fundraising email, calling out his fundraiser with Cohen. Warren added to her long history of criticizing Biden by attacking him for his support of banks and credit card companies during the financial crisis.
However, MSNBC has failed to even mention Biden’s fundraiser with Cohen. I can’t imagine why.