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Opinion

A week into Biden’s reign and the media’s fawning over Saint Joe has to stop. He can’t get a free pass just because he’s not Trump

Yes, we know much of the US press couldn’t stand Donald Trump and were relieved to see him go. But their Joe Biden love-in and lack of proper scrutiny of the new president is becoming properly embarrassing.

Never mind Covid-19. Saint Joe will cure cancer, just you watch. Then he’ll fix the climate and put an end to all racism, sexism and homophobia. All within his first 100 days.

Give the new president a year or two, and there’ll be no more wars. He’ll personally disarm every nuclear missile. There’ll be no more fistfights in bars, even, just hugs and kisses and free drinks all around. Especially on St Patrick’s Day.

And, if you ask him nicely, I’m sure the old dude can probably have a quick chat with God and get the Beatles back together again. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know… two of them are dead. But this is Saint Joe we’re talking about. He can do anything!

All you have to do is watch the US TV news networks or read an American newspaper or website right now, and President Biden is the superhero for whom the country has long been waiting. The cold, hard eyes of the press no longer stare at the White House. They’re filled with love, almost tearful.

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And this Biden bloke could get away with anything. He could take a naked power nap with an inflatable nurse on the South Lawn and the news networks would switch off their live feeds and pretend it wasn’t happening. Bugger the ratings boost they’d receive.

Saint Joe is now 78 years old – the oldest incumbent the Oval Office has ever seen. The Resolute Desk has an old man sitting at it who is resolutely part of the political establishment. And he has been for almost 50 years. There isn’t actually anything new to say about Saint Joe. He’s Irish, he’s Catholic, he has suffered awful personal tragedies. You know all this already.

Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the core purpose of being a journalist was to hold power to account? Even if you like the guy. It’s actually even more important if you like the guy, because those personal feelings can blind you to the facts. It’s your job.

Public relations, though, that’s an entirely different trade. Drink more cola. Pump more gas. Eat more fast food. My toothpaste is better than theirs, etc.

Almost the entire news machine in the US has become a public relations operation for President Joseph R. Biden. ‘State media’, so often lambasted as utterly fawning by the American press, would be red-faced in shame. Chairman Mao would be well pleased.

Inaugurations are, I guess, always bound to be vomit-inducing and self-aggrandising celebrations for the Americans. Fair enough. Y’all don’t have royal weddings or coronations to look forward to. But can you turn off that tap now, please? Saint Joe was anointed over a week ago.

Can the president’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, get an easier ride? It’s a surprise nobody from the White House press corps has asked her what her favourite colour is. It was left to a solitary Fox News reporter to quiz her on why it’s apparently OK not to wear a mask on federal property despite a presidential mandate if you’re the president or a member of his family.

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Saint Joe takes his Catholic faith seriously. He’s a true believer. Alrighty, God almighty. Yet compare the president’s treatment by the media to that of Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s final pick for the Supreme Court. The press rifled through her connections to a slightly off-beat ‘covenant community’. She is, nevertheless, still a Catholic. And what she has actually been quoted as saying about God, whether you believe in this bearded old fella or not, isn’t so wildly different to that of Saint Joe.

And where have all the late-night talk show comedians gone? Surely Saint Joe and his doddery old-man malapropisms, his Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, his constant losses of train of thought, his folksy way of doing things are all satire gold? Or maybe it’s impolite to take the mickey out of an old-age pensioner? OK, that’s fair enough. But this OAP is president of the most powerful country on earth, and has his hands on the nuclear codes. He might think he’s trying to change channel on the TV.

I get it. The US media, apart from Fox News and a handful of others on the right, absolutely despises Donald Trump and everything he stood for, although what, really, did Trump actually stand for? Trump stood for Trump, nothing more.

It must, surely, have been a rush – a real joy – for many journalists and commentators to see those trailer-trash morons swarm into the Capitol building. If the US democratic system didn’t buckle, which – come on guys, get real – was never very likely, then Trump was toast for sure. Even if the crowds had got their hands on Mike Pence and done unspeakable things to him with the House Speaker’s lectern.

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The US media should take a step back and take a deep breath. Why did Trump’s derogatory phrases such as ‘fake news’ and ‘lamestream media’ stick so easily? Why did millions of Americans find them so easy to absorb?

Trump didn’t arrive in a vacuum. These words resonated because the power players and the media seemed way, way, way too cosy and detached – especially in the Barack Obama era. Trump may no longer be centre stage, but there are still millions out there in the audience.

Over 74 million people did vote for Trump. And, just because you can’t get your heads around how that’s even possible, it’s still an absolute fact. They voted for him partly because he was resolutely not part of the status quo.

And not all that Trump did was bad. He was probably right to scream about China because, sooner or later, it will take over from the US as the world’s largest economy. And China doesn’t have to live by the rules of the game. If President Xi Jinping decrees that the country will make more microchips, there shall be more microchips. Or cheese. Or potatoes. Whatever. A command economy doesn’t play by the rules.

Consider also the World Health Organization (WHO). Yes, it was a petulant, teenage act by Trump to just quit and walk away. But the pandemic has proven that it’s absolutely not fit for purpose and should be replaced with something more effective. It’s yet another cosy club, like the United Nations itself.

To general acclaim, though, it was one of Saint Joe’s first acts to rejoin the WHO, with the whip of a pen. Fair enough. There does, surely, have to be some kind of global health organisation, now more than ever. But what? Where’s the media discussion of what it should be? All we get is applause for Biden’s decision.

Never mind the nuclear codes – the president’s pen is actually his mightiest weapon. He has so far signed more than three dozen executive orders covering issues including climate change, Covid-19 relief, race and gender identity and sexual orientation. These are all hardcore political acts, worthy of serious debate.

One thing’s for sure: more will follow, with the press cheering them – rather than providing proper analysis – all the way. That isn’t healthy. And so, America, beware: as Jimi Hendrix might have sung: ‘Hey, Joe! Where you going with that pen in your hand…’

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