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Biden continues our media literacy lesson

May 13th, 2021 by dk

Four months into this new administration, I’m most impressed by what Joe Biden hasn’t done as president. Namely, he hasn’t taken the bait — over and over. Donald Trump gave us a 5-year master class on how to manipulate the media. His sleight hands couldn’t hide his moves. Now Biden is showing how to not be manipulated by the media.

For much too long, earnest Democrats could not resist rebutting every whopper told by the opposition. Every record must be set straight. In doing so, they invariably repeat the untruths, which give it a wider audience and more credence. Biden won’t play along.

The president’s bully pulpit has changed. Legislators are no longer cowed by voters contacting their offices. They’ve trained their interns to handle such things. The bully pulpit has been replaced with the media megaphone. Whatever the president says today will be on the news tonight.

Message discipline has never been more important and Biden is giving us his own master class. He completely ignores silly stories that others make up about him. Is he a partisan hack, a senile stooge, or the hamburglar-in-chief? The president has nothing to say about these items. Next question?

He watched President Obama flail against the birther imbroglio. The answers only amplified the questions. Any concern addressed from within the White House has been legitimized in the minds of many. Obama learned this lesson too late.

A related lesson: reporters are not always seeking the truth. In today’s hyper-competitive media landscape, they want to generate headlines. The questions are not always fair. What is the correct answer to the question, “Are you still beating your wife?”

You cannot answer “Yes” or “No.” You must reframe the question to your advantage: “I beat my wife at chess, and she beats me at Scrabble and just about everything else. After 25 years of happy marriage, I’ve learned to lose graciously, thanks to all that practice.” Checkmate.

These strategy maneuvers feel like a board game, but with hearts and minds at stake. 

When reporters revealed that almost every endorsement for candidate Trump came from websites built to look like legitimate news sites, they labeled them “fake news.” Trump retaliated by slapping the “fake news” label on any negative press coverage. It worked because he had the media megaphone of the White House.

Now we talk about “the Big Lie” — the claim that rampant voter fraud swung the 2020 election to Biden. Trump’s response? His non-Twitter tweet: “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 … will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”

You see how this works? If Trump can cause confusion about which “big lie” is which, he can keep people from entertaining any new thoughts. When people become confused, they tend to retain their prior preferences.

Biden cannot bring clarity to intentional confusion so he doesn’t try. He has the megaphone now and he’s using it only to display his determination to better Americans’ daily lives. He invites judgment based on his performance, not on how convincingly he parries every accusation hurled his way.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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