If you believe it was just a coincidence that CNN chose the biggest sports night of the year to trot out Joe Biden for a presidential town hall, then perhaps you’d be interested in purchasing some acreage in Florida’s Alligator Alley. Primetime cable TV does not just happen; it is carefully planned. So why would the self-appointed “most trusted name in news” choose Thursday, Oct. 21, to host a live town hall with the president of the United States?
Could it be to ensure no one was watching?
This past Thursday, a rare event known as the “sports equinox” occurred. Major League Baseball was firing on all pistons with post-season play, the NHL just got underway, NBA teams were taking the court, and the NFL was doing its usual Thursday night football game. It was a remarkably heavy sports night on U.S. television. USA Today explained the uncommon alignment of the stars: “The sports equinox is when there are games in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL on a given day.”
The Incredible Shrinking President
It is no secret that Joe Biden is sinking into political quicksand in one national poll after another. The man, his administration, policies, and just about everything and everyone linked to the Biden brand are on the receiving end of a fierce rebuke from the public. Some Americans suspect he’s not really in charge and serves as a puppet for those behind the scenes pulling his marionette strings.
To make matters worse, the president rarely answers questions from the media, nor does he often engage with the electorate. It has been brought up time and again that he’s never visited the border – unless one counts a campaign drive-by in 2020 – and has not held a live press conference since July. The appearance of someone not dialed in as president represents a significant problem for the administration.
CNN to the Rescue
The news media is a hungry monster that must be fed and cannot be ignored – especially by a sitting U.S. president. And while Mr. Biden delivers the occasional scripted address via teleprompter, the absence of spontaneous interaction in the public square has left a void that needs to be filled. However, if you believe your guy is not up to the task, it’s best to trot him out when no one is watching. Indeed, burying the president in the ratings is a potentially successful strategic move.
For one, it cannot be said Mr. Biden is in hiding: “Look, Mom, the president is on TV.” Secondly, it can’t be said that he was merely reading another teleprompter-ready speech. In other words, “Check this out; he can talk extemporaneously after all.” Third, fielding questions from ordinary Americans – well, that earns a politician brownie points. Then all one needs to do is stack the deck with people willing to put the ball on the tee, and boom, President Biden is set to hit it out of the park. It also allows friendly media outlets to put their man in a favorable spotlight. Here’s an example from the pages of CNN Politics:
“But at its most basic level, presidential politics is about character. Successful presidents must show control, authenticity, and empathy for the struggles of the people that they lead. Biden came across as humble, decent, and humane – in his element with the audience. His self-deprecation was in stark contrast to the constantly boastful persona and raging victim-complex of his predecessor and was one of the keys to why he beat Trump last year.”
Compare, contrast, rinse, repeat. And if, perchance, Mr. Biden blows the town hall, who cares – no one is watching anyway.
The best media manipulation is subtle. It can be through the omission of the story or taking advantage of an opportunity to let your guy shine in an environment that poses little risk. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once explained, “The best servant does his work unseen.” So, all CNN had to do was sacrifice a few prime-time hours when no one would be watching anyway and say yes to its master.
~ Read more from Leesa K. Donner.
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