What Biden’s ‘Where’s Jackie?’ moment says about the media
It was a moment that was hard to ignore or dismiss: The president of the United States, on stage at an event in Washington, asking if the recently-deceased Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) was in attendance.
“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? She must not be here,” Biden said while looking around the room at the Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health on Sept 28.
In August, Walorski was killed in a horrific head-on collision car accident. At the time, President Biden and the first lady released a statement of condolences. And at the same event that Biden was asking about the congresswoman’s whereabouts, a video tribute was played in her honor.
For its part, the White House press secretary attempted to explain the president’s confusion by arguing that Walorski was “top of mind” for Biden. Not the worst excuse, but it still does not explain why he was asking if she was in the room.
The media coverage since then would qualify to be at the top of any syllabus on two kinds of bias: (A) Standard bias that seeks to protect a major member of a political party by excusing his or her actions; (B) Relatedly, the bias of omission, which is to pretend a newsworthy event never happened.
Regarding the latter, it is stunning that some outlets didn’t cover “Where’s Jackie?” CNN is the most notable, only because we’re continually being told of the network’s pivot back to the political center under new management (Discovery) and its new president (Chris Licht).
But while CNN White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about it during the daily briefing that day, CNN itself did not broach it on air. Hurricane coverage was front and center, of course, but the network also covered the Jan. 6th committee and former President Trump’s legal battles, so there was room.
Compare that to then-President Trump mistakenly referring to Apple CEO Tim Cook as “Tim Apple” during a 2019 White House event and the snark that followed.
“Look, give the president a break. He’s got a lot to deal with,” CNN anchor Anderson Cooper mocked at the time during his primetime news program. “And Cook is tough to remember. It’s a tough tongue-twister like all one-syllable names are. It’s also possible the president just assumes that titans of industry adopt a corporate last name. There was after all that period of time in the 1990s when he was known in some quarters as Donald J. Bankrupt Casino.”
How times have changed.
MSNBC also did not cover the Biden gaffe, but it was tackled briefly on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. And let’s just say anything resembling criticism or mockery took the day off when moderator Chuck Todd asked Vice President Kamala Harris’s former communications director about Biden’s “Jackie” moment.
“Symone, how would you have handled that situation?” Todd asked Symone Sanders-Townsend.
“Look, Karine Jean-Pierre has a very tough job. I think she goes out there every single day, and a number of people could not do what she does every day,” Sanders-Townsend replied. “Look, I think it’s very clear that the president had a slip of the tongue, obviously.”
“People make mistakes, and you try to go from there,” Todd later agreed.
No talk from Todd regarding the 25th Amendment, which deals with presidential succession and disability if the president is unable to do his job. That wasn’t the case in 2018, when Todd hosted author Michael Wolff to talk about that very topic regarding the 45th president.
“It’s not unreasonable to say this is 25th Amendment kind of stuff,” Wolff said of Trump’s mental state, citing the usual unnamed sources.
“Did anybody say that in the West Wing to you?” Todd followed.
“All the time,” Wolff said.
“25th Amendment? They would bring up the 25th Amendment?” Todd continued.
Wolff repeated that it was broached.
“That’s alarming,” Todd declared.
You get the point. With Biden, looking for dead people is a simple mistake that everyone makes. With Trump, it’s time to discuss amendments regarding his mental state and removing him from office.
Joe Biden is the oldest president in U.S. history. In a few weeks, he’ll turn 80.
A majority of the American people don’t see the “Where’s Jackie?” moment as a one-off. They’ve witnessed the president forget the names of his Cabinet members. They see how few items are on his daily schedule. Polls reflect this, and the concern goes well beyond Republican voters.
A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll finds that just 35 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favor Biden for the nomination. You read that correctly: Barely more than one-third of voters from an incumbent president’s own party want him to run again. That’s largely because age and cognitive abilities are serious concerns.
Per a Morning Consult poll last month, 76 percent of voters feel that Biden is “too old” to serve, while a New York Times survey found that among Democrats who do not want Biden to run for reelection, “too old” is listed as the number one reason, at 34 percent, while 32 percent cite job performance.
If Joe Biden runs again and wins a second term, he’ll be 86 years old before leaving the Oval Office. That is a prospect few can accept.
And as the president’s age continues to present itself in very public ways, it’s difficult to see how the party will get behind him when the 2024 campaign kicks off not long after votes in the November midterms are counted.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.