Bob Franken




Back in the ’90s, President Bill Clinton was enmeshed in various petty scandals from his days as governor of Arkansas. Thanks to his smooth-talking ways, people back home even came up with the nickname “Slick Willy.”
Midway through his term as the nation’s chief executive, Republicans took over control of the House of Representatives after 40 years of being in the minority. They were led by Newt Gingrich as speaker. Gingrich was a charismatic (in an annoying kind of way) demagogue — a true model later for Donald Trump.
For reasons that would bore you, back then I was a member of the CNN teams covering both Gingrich and Clinton. I also hosted a Saturday morning show where the audience was invited to call or email their harsh opinions or comments about my reporting, and then I’d respond.
It’s too bad we had such low ratings (I always wanted to start off by saying, “I’d like to welcome my dozens of viewers around the world”). Those who did tune in and those who did express their views were strongly divided between Clinton and Gingrich fans. It was tough to be both. The only thing they could agree on is that I was a scumbag low-life. I viewed that as vindication. Among the first characteristics of good journalism is to be obnoxiously skeptical. The newsmakers are advocates, who, honorably, at best, present a one-sided story that needs to be validly challenged. As someone covering both sides, I personified the role of equal opportunity jerk.
That doesn’t mean a false equivalence. “Fair” coverage of an inept, bigoted, constantly lying, easily duped, demagogic president like Donald Trump needs to factor in all those negatives in the name of accuracy. When Trump got away with deflecting all the truthful stories by dismissing them as “fake news,” describing those of us in honest media (as opposed to the sycophant media) as “enemies of the people,” that was crazy.
Now that Trump has been replaced by Joe Biden, someone who is “normal” and demonstrably not a looney tune, he needs to be welcomed and treated with respectful but incredulous reporting.
The journalistic skepticism must not be tamped down for Joe Biden. The Trumpster was a disaster as president, one who went to every means to crush democracy in order to stay in the White House, including inciting a deadly riot at the Capitol.

Biden’s motives are not so sinister, but he tries to put the best face on selling his version of the ways he will clean up the destruction left by Trump, including devastation from the pandemic.
One of President Biden’s most effective ways to sell his side, so far, is by employing an unusual but effective technique. He UNDERsells his promises. For instance, he has pledged to increase the pathetically low rollout of vaccine distribution by “at least 100 million covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days” of his term.
As dramatic as that sounds, it turns out the guarantee was more than easy to keep. In fact, it has already been beaten.
Early on though, an impertinent reporter had the audacity to shout a question about that, and new President Biden snapped, “Gimme a break, c’mon man.”
Maybe POTUS suffered from a lack of sleep. The inauguration was a long slog after all. And maybe signing that pile of executive orders caused carpal tunnel. And maybe he was starting to believe that following Donald Trump was all he needed to do to avoid pesky questions.
“Gimme a break”? No way, Mr. President. Our four-word response is “Get used to it.” We will look for holes in everything you say or policy you present, putting into context every valid point of view from the opposition. Among journalists, the best ones are everybody’s opposition.

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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