‘That’s not what’s happening:’ Biden tries to rebut news coverage about empty store shelves

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

One of President Biden’s many fights right now is a fight against perceptions: Of economic peril, a never-ending pandemic, and his own political weakness. In recent speeches, he is issuing rebuttals and trying to change perceptions.

On Wednesday, for instance, he gently skewered the news media: “If you’ve watched the news recently, you might think the shelves in all our stores are empty across the country, that parents won’t be able to get presents for their children… But here’s the deal: For the vast majority of the country, that’s not what’s happening.”

Biden ticked through his administration’s actions “taken in partnership with business and labor” and said “shelves are going to be stocked.” I felt like the entire speech was a response to recent coverage. His message, in effect, was: Don’t succumb to the sky-is-falling style of news coverage that is so commonplace at the moment.

He struck a similar tone on Monday when he addressed Americans about Omicron and said it’s “not a cause for panic” — a subtle pushback to some of the panicked initial reactions to the variant news.

But are his arguments getting through? That’s very much debatable. On a recent episode of “Reliable Sources,” I talked about news whiplash. As a viewer, it’s easy to feel like the country is lurching from crisis to emergency to calamity, and by the time one is solved, the next is already stealing all the headlines…

The Fox distortion field

I know I’m a broken record about this, but anti-Biden media coverage is critical to understanding the Biden presidency. For example, Fox showed Biden’s lunchtime speech live on Wednesday, but Newsmax pointedly did not. Host John Bachman said (while interviewing Seb Gorka) that “we’re monitoring” the speech, but “I can’t watch this guy squint into the teleprompter and tell us, you know, lies anymore, so I’m going to spare the audience that. You know, he’s talking about the supply chain here, but I want to go back to this issue with the vaccines.” And then Bachman indulged anti-vax talking points.

One of the banners on “Hannity” on Wednesday night — reacting to the aforementioned speech — said “BIDEN ADMIN DOWNPLAYS THE SEVERITY OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN CRISIS.” Another said, “DESPERATE DEMS RELY ON DECEPTION AND DISTORTION TO TRY AND SELL DESTRUCTIVE AGENDA.” That’s a lot of D’s!

The distortion field is very well demonstrated through Omicron. Biden has said several times this week that the country will fight Covid “not with shutdowns or lockdowns” but with widespread vaccinations, testing, and more. The words “not with shutdowns or lockdowns” have been baked into his public appearances. He could not be any more clear. And yet Tucker Carlson told his fan base on Wednesday that “the Biden administration is once again locking down the country” in response to the new variant. One of Carlson’s banners said “POWER-HUNGRY DEMS WILL ONLY INTENSIFY LOCKDOWNS.” So the president said A, but Fox says the president is doing Z. Is there any remedy for disinformation like that?

Views from the left

Liberal defenders of Biden are increasingly lambasting political coverage — and not just Fox’s, not by a long shot. During Biden’s speech on Wednesday, Eric Boehlert said “I’m glad Biden is calling out media’s hysterical, unglued inflation/supply chain coverage.” Elsewhere, Zachary Pleat of Media Matters argued that the mainstream media “missed the mark with their gloomy Thanksgiving coverage,” writing, “There was no shortage of turkeys, the predicted TSA staffing shortages didn’t happen, and Black Friday shopping increased 30% from last year.” But do those points match perception?

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