Anyone watching the TV coverage of President Joe Biden can sense the chumminess between the president and the pro-Biden press. But you don’t always see the friendships behind the scenes.
On Oct. 5, Politico’s daily Playbook newsletter touted a dinner to “celebrate White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.” In addition to a bevy of powerful black women in politics attending, Politico “spotted” ABC News President Kim Godwin, MSNBC President Rashida Jones, “CBS Mornings” executive producer Shawna Thomas, “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan, CNN host Kasie Hunt, and MSNBC hosts Joy Reid and Andrea Mitchell.
Everything is “off the record” as the “objective” and “mainstream” media “celebrate” the Democratic press secretary.
This is not to say that Republicans never hold off-the-record dinners with reporters. But the word “celebrate” would not be used. In August, that same Politico Playbook team reported the Trump campaign consorted with what the former president calls “enemies of the people” at a Milwaukee steakhouse, and they handed out pudding to mock the Ron DeSantis “eats pudding with his fingers” story.
“Spotted” at that event were new NBC “Meet the Press” moderator Kristen Welker, CNN “Inside Politics” host Dana Bash, ABC political director Rick Klein, CBS political director Fin Gomez, CNN political director David Chalian, ABC reporter Rachel Scott, CBS reporter Robert Costa, and NBC reporter Dasha Burns. There were also some print reporters, including Bloomberg’s Mario Parker, Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times, and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post.
This may be an attempt to charm the journalists—steak might surpass Trump’s fast-food banquets—but no one would expect post-steak gush. Still, granting access can affect coverage, especially in a primary race. This was right before the first presidential debate, some pre-spin for a debate Trump skipped.
On Sept. 29, hours after the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., we learned reporters were regular diners at a Feinstein-organized dinner. CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger gushed, “I was lucky enough to be among a group of women that she invited to dinner, I’d say once every six weeks or so. And she would have a table at Cafe Milano in a little room in D.C. with beautiful flowers in the middle.”
It was off the record, naturally, but Borger said, “It was not only a discussion, it wasn’t really about what was going on on the Intelligence Committee of which she was chairman. It was about sort of the events of the day. ‘How are you?’ ‘What’s going on in your news organization?’ There was a little bit of gossip in there.”
On NBC’s “Today,” Savannah Guthrie said to Andrea Mitchell, “I know, of course, you have known Sen. Feinstein for many, many years.” She didn’t say they were “friends.” Mitchell said, “I was supposed to have lunch with her 10 days ago. As she has frequently done in recent months, at the last moment she didn’t feel well enough to come, so the people were there. It was a small group of people who have known her for a long time.”
Over on MSNBC, Jean-Pierre party attendee Mitchell chatted with Feinstein’s good friend Jane Harman, a former congresswoman from California, and Harman said, “You were a close personal friend, as is Michael [Beschloss], that we hosted and tried to host a number of things for her.”
It’s all so cozy. Personal friendships obviously affect the tone of coverage—or the decision against any coverage. Mitchell could fiercely display her friendship with Feinstein on TV, and it might just seem partisan and not personal. It was both.
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