Zoe Hill discusses the decisions journalists are making on what is newsworthy, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Spring has just begun, but it seems that we are already in the heat of 2021’s slow news season.
Seemingly every major news outlet ran two mundane stories about President Joe Biden this week. The first was when Biden misspoke and referred to the vice president as “President Kamala Harris” during a press conference. The second was when the president tripped three times heading up the stairs to board Air Force One.
Both of these news stories garnered enormous attention online, especially on Twitter. The stories drummed up more conspiracy theories that stemmed from conservative news outlets and former President Donald Trump’s rants.
A debate sparked on Twitter circling the pre-election conspiracy that Harris intends to puppeteer the presidency and make a bid for command-in-chief in 2024.
Biden’s error was just that, and it is not his first verbal mess up. He referred to Harris as “president-elect” in December, and Sen. Cory Book as “president” back before the primaries when the senator was a presidential candidate. None of these mistakes indicate any sort of secret plot for the Oval Office, and whether the current VP decides to run after Biden’s turn is completely up to her and her family, not a Twitter theory.
Making mistakes like saying the wrong thing is perfectly human, but many think that it is a sign that Biden is unfit to serve as president of the United States. This has been something that hurt the president’s campaign after Trump referred to him as senile and “Sleepy Joe.” This theory was again supported by the stumble that Biden took this week before flying to Atlanta.
This theory has been repeatedly debunked by the president himself. He has defended himself and his speech errors by admitting to struggling with a stutter his entire life. Biden subsequently used his impediment to reveal his humanity and humility while campaigning for the presidency.
I will be the first to be critical of the president, his administration and anyone sworn to serve the U.S., but I will defend that institution of the press in this country. Blowing up stories on a few minor and perfectly normal mishaps is irresponsible journalism.
It is understandable to report on these things because of Biden’s prevalence in the global society, but tagging on conspiracy theories is tasteless.
For a former administration and political party that was, and still is, obsessed with discrediting the press and crying fake news after every unflattering headline, perpetuating non-newsworthy stories is paradoxical.
While these slow-season stories are not pertinent to our lives and often distasteful, it is sort of refreshing to not have an anxiety attack every time I open Twitter or check my AP News notification.
It seemed like for the past four years, at any point it could be the end of the world. That sounds dramatic, but it is not. “World War III” was a recurring hashtag on social media following a slew of incendiary words or actions by Trump.
It is nice to see an article about the First Dogs, Major and Champ, or one about the First Lady’s Valentine’s Day lawn display. This is not to say that reports should not also reveal the literal missteps of the president, but it is nostalgic to read that the president is in fact human.
Former President Barack Obama also fell prey to a slow news season in August 2014. The now-infamous tan suit that Obama wore to brief the country on terrorist group ISIS, which was seen as too casual for such a serious press conference. The Obama Tan Suit Controversy became the joke of the rest of his presidency.
While news stories like these are silly and sometimes refreshing, there is a larger issue. As I alluded to before, the perpetuation of conspiracy theories is fundamentally anti-journalistic, but slow news seasons are also notorious for burying important news. Obama’s suit overshadowed the real issue in Syria and dominated the airspace.
Important issues were eclipsed by Biden’s fall and his stutter in this week’s news coverage. The press conference that Biden gave was in regards to the administration’s milestone achievement of administering 100 million COVID-19 vaccines in 58 days— 43 days fewer than anticipated.
Biden was boarding Air Force One to fly to Atlanta, Georgia, to pay respects to the families of the victims of the recent spa massacres.
We need to find a better balance in journalism when it comes to newsworthiness and timeliness. It is hard to argue that the front page should solely focus on major disasters because that cannot be good for our sanity.
At the same time, it is so trivial to overanalyze the smallest mistakes and choices of the president. The most important thing in journalism is to be truthful and hold the government accountable, so if we can swim out of the fake news pit that we’ve been drowning in, we can find that balance.