I noticed something a bit interesting tucked into some outlets' stories about an unquestionably silly gaffe on Donald Trump's part Monday, when the president offered condolences to the people of "Toledo," despite last week's mass shooting taking place an hour and a half away in Dayton, Ohio. Most write-ups, including CNN's, NBC News's, and The New York Times's, noted that Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden had done the same thing a day earlier, accidentally referring to the Ohio and El Paso shootings as occurring in "Michigan" and "Houston."
That's a good thing of course. It'd be pretty openly partisan for the media to excoriate the president for a gaffe and ignore the Democratic frontrunner making the exact same mistake. However, none of those outlets had published any stories about Biden's gaffe until the President misspoke the following day. In other words, someone made an editorial judgement that Biden's gaffe wasn't newsworthy, and then a day later made the judgement that Trump's identical gaffe was newsworthy. If they weren't required to do due diligence when reporting on the Trump gaffe, one gets the impression they wouldn't have reported on Biden's at all.
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I recognize that compared to many of the media bias cases I rail against, this is more of a minor complaint, but Biden's gaffe came after a bizarre debate flub in which the septuagenarian told supporters to "go to Joe 30330," a then-nonexistent url. It was subsequently picked up by rivals and trolls. So as early as this Sunday there was enough for the media to form a narrative if they so desired.
Since then, and in the span of only a day, Biden's habit of sticking his foot in his mouth has reemerged so frequently that the narrative became impossible to escape. Biden, always gaffe-prone to begin with, has lately become a never-ending gaffe machine.
In a series of Iowa stops, Biden, in order:
- Told supporters, "We choose unity over division, we choose science over fiction, we choose truth over facts."
- When asked to name his favorite historical figure who wasn't a U.S. president, pontificated for a few minutes about unnamed "philosophers," and then answered Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.
- Accidentally called recently departed British Prime Minister Teresa May "Margaret Thatcher." This is actually the second time Biden has called May "Margaret Thatcher" this year. Thatcher, who died in 2013, hasn't been Prime Minister in three decades.
- In a truly Michael Scott worthy moment, told a room full of Hispanics and Asians that "Poor kids are just as bright, just as talented, as white kids."
The last misstep become the most serious threat to his campaign, given Biden's history of racially-charged verbal blunders. Biden caused controversy in the 2008 Democratic primary by referring to Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean." More devoted Bidenologists will recall his statement that, "You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."
The defense from liberals pundits will likely be that Biden's missteps are not as offensive nor as awkward as the statements coming from the Republican president every day. Perhaps, but Biden isn't just running against Trump, he's one man in a twenty-person primary. Right now he's trying to convince Democrats that he's the best person to take back the White House. Is "slightly more composed than Trump" really the bar those voters have set?
Liberal Vox writer David Roberts perhaps put it best on Twitter yesterday. "Dems have another few months to laugh about these kinds of gaffes," he tweeted. "Then they're going to be forced to defend them at a roughly one-per-day pace throughout the entire race." If Biden doesn't tighten up his mental composure quick, more and more Democrats will wonder if he's worth the risk.