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CBS Screws Biden
They promoted the false narrative that classified documents found in Biden’s office were comparable to Trump's stash at Mar-a-Lago.
by Bob Cesca
WASHINGTON, DC – Soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt asked his FBI director whether there was anything we were doing that might appear fascistic and hypocritical, and therefore damaging to the war effort.
The president was told about what’s now known as “neo-slavery” in which Black Americans were being arrested for Jim Crow era infractions like vagrancy and shuffled off to be punished in coal mines and plantations as slaves, often lost forever.
Knowing how this might fuel anti-U.S. propaganda, FDR ordered the FBI to shut down the mines and plantations. Before we fought back against the Axis powers, Roosevelt made sure his own house was in order. (There’s much more to the story, which you can read about in Douglas Blackmon’s masterpiece Slavery By Another Name.)
Unfortunately, when the National Archives and the Department of Justice discovered that Donald Trump had retained upwards of 300-plus top secret documents following his nightmarish single term in office, no one in President Biden’s inner circle thought to scour his offices and storage facilities for similar top secret documents that may have been swept up when Biden moved from the vice presidency back into civilian life six years ago.
Now, thanks to some shoddy reporting and, subsequently, the Red Hat entertainment complex’s dedication to elevating the mundane into the outrageous, get ready for another non-scandal scandal.
This week, CBS News reported that around 10 classified documents were found in a locked closet inside Biden’s vice presidential office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
The tweet promoting the story:
EXCLUSIVE: Classified documents from Joe Biden’s vice-presidential office were discovered by the president's personal attorneys at the Penn Biden Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
Notice anything hinky about that? There’s not a single word to clarify that the documents were immediately turned over to the National Archives, even though that’s exactly what happened. And there’s no mention of the fact that NARA notified the Department of Justice.
So, a story that was already going to be freakishly mutated by Donald Trump and his disciples was made even worse by the absence of mitigating information in not just the tweet, but the CBS News headline itself, as well as the lede and the first two paragraphs. The article goes on for 184 words and 1,147 characters before this information appears:
[O]n the same day the material was discovered, Nov. 2, the White House counsel's office notified the National Archives, which took possession of the materials the following morning.
"The discovery of these documents was made by the President's attorneys," Sauber said. "The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the Archives. Since that discovery, the President's personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives."
It’s not until paragraph 21 that we see this:
The Penn Biden Center case has parallels to the Justice Department's pursuit of Donald Trump's presidential records — but the scope and scale are materially different.
No, this story doesn’t parallel the Trump story. That is unless we believe accidentally transposing two numbers in Turbo Tax parallels corporate tax fraud. But the second part, “the scope and scale are materially different,” should have appeared in the lede paragraph, not buried in the belly of the article.
If you’re having flashbacks to the similarly bungled Snowden-era reporting and the Clinton email server story, you’re not alone.
Sadly, most people don’t read past the tweet, even fewer people click on the story and when they do, they rarely make it beyond the headline and lede. That’s why it’s immensely important that hard news stories pack as much of the story as possible into the tweet, headline, and lede. Between those three puzzle pieces, readers should get a full taste of the story.
Sure, tweets are restricted to 280 characters. But the words “and returned” could’ve easily fit into the CBS News tweet, well under the 280 character limit and with room to spare. I checked. Instead, it’s a safe bet that most of the 6.2 million people who’ve read the tweet so far didn’t get to the mitigating circumstances, thus fueling the pro-Trump grievance machine.
Republicans don’t care that Trump stole 300-plus documents when he left the White House, as opposed to 10 documents found at the Penn Biden Center. They don’t care that Trump kept some of the documents in his desk drawer and office closet at Mar-a-lago. They don’t care that he’s repeatedly insisted the documents belonged to him. They don’t care that FBI agents found empty folders at Mar-a-lago indicating missing classified documents. They don’t care that NARA had been demanding the Mar-a-lago documents for a year and a half with little success, leading to the August FBI raid. They don’t care that a year and a half of obstruction isn’t even in the same universe as Biden’s lawyers immediately notifying NARA and returning all documents the next day. They certainly won’t care that a Trump appointed U.S. attorney is reviewing the Biden documents as we speak.
Knowing this, and especially knowing how democracy is on the endangered species list, thanks to Republicans, the press needs to make damn sure that regular people get clear, accurate, comprehensive reporting of the news.
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The first version of a story tends to be the one that sticks to the wall. In this case, the botched presentation of the Penn Biden Center story launched a both-sides narrative, dulling the impact of the Mar-a-lago investigation, fueling Red Hat screeching about a “weaponized” government, and it’ll definitely be the subject of a select-committee in the House, not to mention calls for a special prosecutor, in large part because CBS News packaged the story the way it did.
Additionally, on Wednesday, NBC News reported that more classified documents were discovered in Biden’s post-vice-presidential office in Washington, but reporters Ken Dilianian and Carole Lee didn’t provide any other information about how many documents, whether the documents were returned (we assume they were), or the content of the documents. Had I been Dilianian and Lee’s editor I wouldn’t have allowed them to publish an incomplete article like that – but then again, I make an effort to write with integrity.
Now, Biden will be damaged politically, though it’s unclear how much. Republicans will get another non-scandal to shriek about. Trump might get away with his own document theft. None of it will be based on a reasonable analysis of this story. And the consequences will push us a few clicks closer to fascist authoritarianism.
But at least CBS got 6.2 million Twitter views.
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