Why the Media Deserves a Failing Grade During Biden’s First 100 Days

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President Joe Biden waited longer to hold his first press conference than any other president in the past 100 years. After waiting 64 days, the media had a chance on March 25 to ask the president about his agenda.

Tim Murtaugh, communications director for President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, was disappointed by what he saw. 

“I would give Biden probably about a ‘C’ on that press conference for truthfulness [and] for how long it took. And the press corps, I would say I would give a lower grade than that,” said Murtaugh, now a Heritage Foundation visiting fellow and Daily Signal contributor. The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation. 

Murtaugh joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the media’s coverage of Biden, the border crisis, Georgia’s new election integrity law, and more.

Also on today’s show, we read your letters to the editor and share a “good news story” about a former Heritage Foundation intern who started a nonprofit organization to clean up communities in and around Pittsburgh.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Rob Bluey: We are joined on “The Daily Signal Podcast” today by Tim Murtaugh, a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation and contributor to The Daily Signal. Tim, welcome back.

Tim Murtaugh: Happy to be with you again, Rob.

Bluey: There is so much for us to cover since we spoke last month. You have been particularly busy writing about the Biden administration’s approach to China, Georgia’s election reforms, and the media’s full-scale embrace of President [Joe] Biden. But before we get to some of those, I wanted to get started by asking you about President Biden’s first press conference.

So, this took place on March 25th. It took him 64 days, which seemed like an extraordinary long time, at least compared to President [Donald] Trump and his media availability.

And I wanted to ask you, as somebody who has observed the media throughout your career and a former member of the press corps, how would you grade the press on their questions of President Biden during this first press conference, and any notable differences between Biden and perhaps some of his predecessors?

Murtaugh: I think you’d be forgiven if you had expected the press corps to actually show up with an apple for teacher, right? I think they were gleeful to have President Biden in front of them.

And you noted it was 64 days into his administration when he had his first press conference. That’s longer than any other president in the last 100 years to have his first press conference. So it was notable for how long it took.

But honestly, if you watched that press conference, you wonder what he was waiting for, because it was really a great reception from the press corps. They were very friendly. One reporter even referred to him in framing her question, called him a “moral, decent man,” right?

You heard during the Trump years, the press corps were always talking about speaking truth to power, right? And holding the powerful accountable. And here you have somebody loading up the question by praising the president as a moral and decent man. There’s a real adversarial press corps right there.

And I would note that President Biden took no questions from Peter Doocy of Fox, who is one of the reporters who will always ask pointed questions and try to get to an important issue and try to drill down on the truth.

And the fact is, I don’t think that Joe Biden was particularly truthful during that press conference, and especially on issues that involve the immigration crisis at the border.

He said that nothing has changed on the border since he became president. And he wanted to go back and talk about how this migrant arrivals at the border always goes in cycles. And to some extent, he’s right, it does go in cycles. But what we’re seeing now at the border is so far out of line with what has happened in years past that to say that nothing has changed is, frankly, untrue.

He also claimed that his administration has been sending back the vast majority of families who arrive at the border. And that’s not true because less than half of families who arrived in February were sent back. So that’s clearly not the vast majority.

They downplay the number of minor children who were arriving. He said it’s been around 28% to 31% increase, which he claimed was right in line with past years. But it was actually 63% up from January to February. That’s the highest levels in 20 years. So for him to say that there’s nothing really here out of the ordinary is really way off base.

He also managed to slip in a couple of exaggerations and untruths about the Georgia election law. He said, again—this is something that he had said a number of times—that the polls in Georgia will close at 5 p.m. now under this law, which is not true. Polls can still stay open until 7 p.m. in Georgia.

And he repeated this really greatly misleading aspect of the Georgia law by saying that it’s now illegal to give people waiting in line to vote food and water while they’re waiting in line, and making conjuring images of people passing out from dehydration while they’re waiting in line to vote, really, like, torturous situations there as people wait to vote. That’s not true.

Poll workers can still give people refreshments and food and pizza or whatever. The law prevents campaign workers from wearing campaign paraphernalia and going and giving people branded bottles of water with the campaign logo on it and candidates’ logo.

Could you imagine the reaction from Democrats if Trump campaign officials had been walking around handing out Trump water to people? There’d be outcries. That’s what this law prevents.

And so, on the whole, I would give Biden probably about a “C” on that press conference for truthfulness, for how long it took. And the press corps, I would say I would give a lower grade than that.

Bluey: Well, Tim, thank you for that. We’re going to delve deeper into a few of those topics that you mentioned.

You referenced the liberal PBS reporter who called him a moral and decent man, and that was in the context, actually, of a question on immigration. And I wanted to ask you about this because one of the biggest stories so far of Biden’s for a few months has been the border crisis that largely he created.

And at first, the media seemed to ignore it and then they tried to excuse it, some even blame the Trump administration for it. Interestingly, the White House press secretary has pointedly refused to even acknowledge it is a crisis. What’s your take on all of this?

Murtaugh: Yeah, well, it is a crisis. By any definition, it’s a crisis. And it’s really funny you mentioned Jen Psaki there, the White House press secretary.

You’re right, she has steadfastly refused to use the word “crisis,” even though they call lots of things crisis. We have the climate change crisis, there’s a housing crisis. There’s all kinds of crises all over the place, but not at the border, no. That is not a crisis. They call it a “challenge” at the border.

Except one time in a press conference a little while ago, Jen Psaki accidentally said the word crisis when she said “crisis at the border,” and you could tell she immediately regretted it.

And a reporter did, to the … reporter’s credit, sort of pounce on that and asked if the use of that word crisis meant that there was a reflection of a change in the administration’s approach or their view of what’s happening on the border.

And you could tell that Jen Psaki was very upset that she had made that slip. Because when asked, “Does that reflect a change?” she said, “Nope.” And the guy pressed her again and she said, “Nope.”

So she realized that she had messed up. Because crisis, when it relates to the border, is clearly a non-word at the Biden White House. And so I think anybody with two eyes can see just exactly what’s happening with the Biden White House. They’re preventing access to it. They’re not being transparent about it.

The numbers are way, way up. You remember we heard so much during the Trump years about kids in cages, and Joe Biden was going to end all that? And now we have far more children in the retention centers down there along the southern border than we ever had under President Trump or any other president. And they won’t call it a crisis, but it is.

Bluey: Well, it certainly is, Tim. And thank you for your help in making sure that people understand what’s really going on there.

I think that this is an area where the media has not lived up to the expectations that the American people have. Some outlets have stood out more than others. And certainly, at The Daily Signal, we are trying to bring as much attention to it as possible.

Murtaugh: Yeah. I wanted—

Bluey: Yeah, go ahead.

Murtaugh: I want to say, Joe Biden caused this crisis, as a matter of fact.

Throughout the campaign, and I can tell you, I was the communication director on the Trump 2020 campaign, Joe Biden campaigned on a variety of things that actually encouraged and enticed people to make the dangerous journey through Mexico, oftentimes from other countries all the way through Mexico to the southern border of the United States to try to enter illegally.

He promised amnesty, amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants who are already present in this country. He promised that he would not deport anyone as soon as he became president. He promised them free health care. He promised them work permits. And he promised that he would support sanctuary cities, which are localities in the United States which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

He promised all of those things if he would be elected president. He laid out the welcome mat. He turned on the vacancy sign of the United States. Of course, it encouraged people to come to the southern border. Heck a lot of them are there wearing Biden T-shirts, if you’ve seen the pictures of that.

And he says, “Well, I didn’t cause this. They’re coming here because I’m a nice guy.” They’re coming because you promised them they could get into the country, there would be no repercussions for breaking our laws to get in. And once they got here, we would load them up with all kinds of taxpayer-funded free stuff. That’s exactly what has happened.

Joe Biden owns this crisis. And it’s no wonder that the White House does not want to call it that because that’s what it is, and Joe Biden caused it.

Bluey: Well said, Tim. Thank you for making that point. Let’s shift to what’s happening in some of the states.

You mentioned this in the first answer. You recently wrote a piece for The Daily Signal trying to clarify the Georgia election reforms and pushing back against this leftist tactic of referring to them as racist, and using other words like “Jim Crow” to describe them. Yet tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is led by Democrats, will hold a hearing titled “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote.”

You say these attacks on Georgia’s law are unfair and also misrepresent the facts. What’s happening here?

Murtaugh: Well, this is a grand strategy, I believe, that the Democrats have. It’s two tracks and it’s to get at one final result. The first is they have to brand the Georgia law as racist. And to call it Jim Crow is the obvious tactic that they’re taking.

It’s a very shocking thing to charge and say that this is Jim Crow. But let’s remember what real Jim Crow laws were. They legalized racism. They legalized discrimination and racial segregation in education, in employment, in public facilities, buses, water fountains.

We all know those stories, the judicial system. Even cemeteries were segregated under Jim Crow laws. Black people and white people were not permitted to mix, really, in any meaningful way under Jim Crow. That’s what Jim Crow was.

Now, when you say that asking someone to show ID to vote, to prove that they are the voter that they claim to be is the same as legalized racism and segregation of schools and removing any chance of opportunity for black people under Jim Crow laws, when you say that those are the same, to ask, actually, that somebody provide identification—which, by the way, is provided to you by the state at no cost to you—to liken that to Jim Crow really diminishes what Jim Crow really was.

And so this is the beginning of their plan. They want to label the Georgia law as racist.

Then on a separate parallel track, they also have to label the filibuster as racist, and then call that a relic of the Jim Crow era, even though the Democrats used it more than 300 times against President Trump while President Trump was in office. Now, all of a sudden, the filibuster is racist.

So why do they have to call the Georgia law racist and also the filibuster racist? It’s because they want to pass HR 1, which is the federal takeover of elections. It will cement the liberal dominance in Congress and in national offices generally and in states for decades to come. And the only way they can do that is by eliminating the filibuster because HR 1 will never get 60 votes as required right now for passage in the Senate.

So they got to get rid of the filibuster, so the filibuster has to be racist. And the reason why they need HR 1 is because laws like Georgia’s laws are racist. That’s … their big grand plan.

Bluey: Well, President Biden himself has outright lied about the Georgia law, whether he was doing so based on bad information he was provided or simply didn’t read it, I don’t know. But we’re also seeing major corporations step into this debate with false statements.

If major news organizations aren’t going to correct the record on this or hold them accountable, what can we do to make sure the American people know the truth?

Murtaugh: Well, a podcast like this is a good step in the right direction. I think we need to have people who have actually read the law. I know it’s a crazy notion that we might expect people who are going to comment and opine on a law to actually have to examine what is actually in it.

So the more people can and can avail themselves of the information about what the law actually says, I think so much the better.

The press corps really fell down on the job on this one. And I really blame the press corps as a whole. It’s all lots of them, even The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is the home of the Georgia law. They had to issue a really embarrassing correction correcting their earlier reporting.

And I think what happened is you have activists like Stacey Abrams who gave a really distorted description of what the Georgia law did. And again, going back to their big grand plan to get HR 1 passed, that’s what her goal has been.

And the media just took those criticisms at face value and didn’t even look into whether they were true or not, like this idea of not being able to give people food or water while waiting in line. That really took off and just became accepted as fact.

And the idea that the voting has actually been constricted and restricted in Georgia, when in fact it has been made easier for a lot of people to vote and is much more permissive than lots of other state laws.

So corporations—Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta, and a whole bunch of others—just fell in line because when the liberal outrage mom rears its head, they jump and ask questions of fact later.

I think you see some of that softening because there’s been a great backlash against those. President Trump for one, former president, has called for boycotts of these companies. And I think you saw Coca-Cola just yesterday issue a much more conciliatory statement. So I think they probably realized that they jumped a little bit too soon. And Joe Biden, I think he knows it, too.

Stacey Abrams says that she wishes that the MLB did not pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta because, guess what? Atlanta is a 51% black city. And there’s a lot of black-owned businesses that are going to get crushed … They were counting on $100 million of revenue coming in because of the Major League Baseball game. That’s not happening now. It’s going to Denver. And Stacey Abrams said, “Whoops. I didn’t really want that to happen.”

And Joe Biden went on ESPN prior to MLB making its decision, went on ESPN and said, “I strongly support it if MLB would pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta.” And then they did.

And then Jen Psaki was asked about it and she said, “No, that’s not what he said. That’s not what he meant. He meant he supports the idea that Major League Baseball has the right to do that if they want to.”

That’s not what he said at all. He encouraged them to remove the Major League. You have the most powerful man in the world telling Major League Baseball, “I would strongly support it if you pulled the All-Star Game.” And then they do. And he says, “Well, that’s not what I meant.” So it’s all over the place.

I really do hope and trust that there will be a snap back if people have some sort of a sense of proportion and understand that if they’re going to react like this, they better be darn sure that they know exactly what it is that’s in the law and not take the activists’ point of view as fact.

Bluey: Tim, you and I are both big sports fans. It’s really disheartening that Major League Baseball took this action. I do think that there will be political ramifications. Would be curious to hear your thoughts on that, but I also want to get your take on this notion that sports are being so political.

Brett Favre just came out and said, “Keep politics out of sports. Let’s focus on what sports are really about.” And as somebody who is a fan yourself, what do you think about this move amongst so many athletes and now even the leagues themselves to take political positions?

Murtaugh: Well, I think this was a gigantic misstep by Major League Baseball. Look, we know, and I know you follow baseball, and you know that they’ve been tinkering with all these crazy rules changes that I’m sort of a purist about it.

I oppose a lot of these rules changes, like the idea of an extra innings, you start every inning with a runner already on second base. And they’ve already changed it where an intentional walk, the pitcher doesn’t even have to throw any pitches, the runner already gets on first base. There’s all kinds of rules changes.

They’re trying to speed up the game. There’s a clock now between pitches, the pitcher has to deliver the next pitch within a certain amount of time. They’re worried that they’ve been losing audience. Their TV ratings are falling. They’re not catching the next generation of baseball fans because the games have gotten too long.

That’s what they’ve been worried about now for a number of years. And they’re tinkering with the rules to try to correct that and make the games faster and increase their ratings and increase their fan base.

So they’re worried that people are tuning out of baseball already. And then they go and do something like this, where they have told basically half the country, “We think you’re a bunch of redneck racists and we don’t really care for your business anymore.” And I don’t think it’s going to help their bottom line very much.

And here’s another question for them, if they really did truly mean this, that the Georgia law is so egregious that they had to pull the All-Star Game out and give it to another city and crush Atlanta with the loss of $100 million of revenue, if they really believe that the Georgia law is that bad, then why haven’t they addressed the fact that the Atlanta Braves are still going to play 81 home games in that very same city? Why haven’t they pulled any home games from the Atlanta Braves?

Why haven’t they told Atlanta, “You have to get rid of your franchise. Your franchise has to move somewhere else”? Why draw the line at moving the All-Star Game? Really? If you mean it about the Georgia law, go all the way.

Bluey: Well, it’s a fair point, Tim. And I like how some observers have pointed out that the field, the baseball park in Denver is named after Coors, that just happens to be a founder of The Heritage Foundation of all places.

But back to the point on Georgia and the backlash, do you think there will be any political repercussions in that state? After all, it was among the closest in the presidential contest in 2020. And I know it’s a battleground, certainly from a congressional standpoint, and most certainly will be in 2024.

Murtaugh: I think there will be. I think we have the brand new senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, they clearly were on the side of really ginning up the opposition to the Georgia law and screaming about Jim Crow and how awful it was. And then the All-Star Game gets yanked from Atlanta, and Ossoff and others were looking around saying, “Whoa, we didn’t think that was going to happen.”

Well, honestly, what did they think was going to happen? Everybody’s running around calling for boycotts. Of course their goal is to get the corporations to buckle. And that’s exactly what happened.

They had Warnock [come] out and he had to admit, his staff, anyway, had to admit that the really inflammatory statement that he had put out about the Georgia law was based on things that were in the preliminary stages of the legislative consideration of it, and are not in fact in the final law. So his statement that he put out was completely and wholly inaccurate about what the law does, but they put that out anyway.

And so, yes. The idea that Atlanta has been hit and black-owned businesses will be hurt by the All-Star Game leaving Atlanta, that is absolutely on the hands of people like Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, Stacey Abrams.

And absolutely, voters ought to be reminded of that, that it cost the state economically, it cost jobs, it hurt minority-owned businesses when the game leaves and goes to a different state. I think that voters will probably remember this. When the All-Star Game comes to town, you know, Rob, it’s a big deal for the locality.

Bluey: Absolutely.

Murtaugh: It really is. Cities vie for this. They want to get in line. They say, “When is it going to be our chance to host the All-Star Game?” Cities build beautiful new stadiums these days with the idea of one day hosting the All-Star Game. And then Atlanta gets it and it’s taken away. And the elected officials who caused it to happen are looking around going, “Oh, boy, maybe we went a little bit too far.” And I think they knew they did.

Bluey: Yeah, I think that that’s certainly the case, Tim. And it’s certainly something we will be closely following.

I should give credit where it is due, and The Washington Post did give Joe Biden four Pinocchios for making those false claims about the Georgia law. So I just want to get that in there. I know that we’re being critical on the media, but there are some times when you—

Murtaugh: Every once in a while, every once in a while. Yeah. Well, you know what? That didn’t stop him. He went out and still keeps saying it.

Bluey: That’s true.

Murtaugh: And Jen Psaki gets that question, “Hey, what about the four Pinocchios that Biden got for the … ?” It was on the 5 p.m. closing question, I think. And she stuck to her guns. She didn’t actually address that particular half-untruth. She actually went on to list a bunch of other things she thought [were] bad with the law.

But they show no signs of changing their tactics. They’re going to continue to misrepresent it.

Bluey: Tim, one final topic for you today. Your most recent column was on China. Why do you say that President Biden’s policy toward China is destined to fail?

Murtaugh: Well, for one, first, right out of the gate, the former defense secretary under President [Barack] Obama when Biden was the VP, Robert Gates, said that Joe Biden has been wrong on every foreign policy call over the last four decades. And I don’t see why that track record should change anytime soon.

The very first international meeting in the Biden administration between the United States and China, it occurred up in Alaska, the Chinese absolutely embarrassed the American delegation.

And what the Chinese representative said, that the people in the United States have very little confidence in the democracy of the United States and that the U.S. does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength, that’s what the Chinese said to Tony Blinken, our secretary of state.

And instead of defending the United States, our own secretary of state chose instead to concede the point to the Chinese. And he said, “Well, a confident country is able to look at our own shortcomings and try to get better. That’s what’s great about America.” Essentially telling the Chinese, “You know what? You’re right. We’re actually a pretty bad country and we don’t have standing to talk to you about human rights abuses.”

That’s outrageous, that the United States secretary of state would not stick up for our own country when he has been publicly embarrassed by the Chinese delegation.

But it’s a long, long history of Joe Biden being wrong on China. On the campaign trail, he just was scornful and openly dismissed the idea that anyone could think that the Chinese were economic competition for us.

You might remember that famous video tape where he said, “What, China’s going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They’re not bad folks, folks, but they’re not competition for us.” It’s just wrong.

And with the coronavirus crisis, President Trump stopped travel from China to the United States in the very early stages, last January, at the end of January. And Joe Biden called it xenophobia and fearmongering at the time. And we know now that that saved thousands of American lives, and Joe Biden was wrong.

And he’s already restored funding to the World Health Organization, which President Trump took away and stopped, because the WHO helped China lie to the rest of the world about the outbreak and the spreading and the veracity of the virus itself.

Joe Biden so wants to be loved by the international community that he’s going to do things like that. And he’s naive enough to think that countries like China won’t use that and take advantage of him. And we are already seeing evidence that that’s happening. That opening meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, was really just the first.

Bluey: It sure certainly seems to be the case, Tim. And I know that the colleagues of mine at The Heritage Foundation have a brand new report, which we can link to in the show notes, about the Beijing Olympics and the importance of a decision from the U.S. on that. Not necessarily to boycott but to pressure the international community and the Olympics to move those out of China.

So certainly a lot to watch on the China fraud. And we appreciate your insights on that. Thank you so much for joining us today on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”

Murtaugh: You bet, Rob. Always a pleasure and happy to be with you once again.

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