Ignoring an Impeachable Act (OPINION)

The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO columnist

The Saturday quiz in the New York Times summarizes the world’s most notable events from the previous week. The latest edition offers 11 questions whose topics range from the resignation of a Los Angeles City Council member to the latest “Halloween” sequel.

Missing was a surprising disclosure: On the evening of Oct. 12th, Saudi Arabia released a rare statement disclosing secret details of private talks with the Biden administration. It said Biden officials had implored Saudi Arabia and OPEC+ to delay oil production cuts—which will send U.S. gasoline prices even higher—for just one month.

Meaning, until after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

The startling story—a foreign government’s tattling on a U.S. president for asking for a favor just before the next election—was left out of the quiz. Why? Because the Times has all but ignored this controversy altogether. So has the Washington Post.

Yet when President Trump in September 2019 asked a foreign government for a favor before the 2020 presidential race, the Times and Post ran wild, writing story after story claiming Trump was trying to rig the election.

This led to Trump’s impeachment, the first time, anyway. He had asked the new Ukraine president to look into reports that Biden’s son was getting paid millions in consulting fees from a shady Ukrainian energy giant. (He was.)

This time around, the Times and the Washington Post display an odd lack of curiosity and scrutiny. And those two pillars of the press set the agenda for rest of the media, cable news in particular. I saw this in my six years as an anchor at CNBC and Fox Business: rip & read, baby!

Conservative news outlets reported this story. This underscores the question I raised in a previous column, here: are the media coming to the rescue of Joe Biden once again?

The Times and Post devoted a lot of ink and pixels to the administration’s harsh criticism of the Saudis after OPEC+ went ahead with output cuts. On Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 11th, the Times posted an updated story online saying “Biden to Re-evaluate Relationship with Saudi Arabia After Production Cuts.”

This later was toughened up: “Biden vows ‘Consequences’ for Saudi Arabia…”

The Post followed suit Tuesday night with a similar story: “Biden Vows ‘consequences’ for Saudis after OPEC+ cuts output.” Both papers failed to note that this amounts to a Biden threat to punish Saudi Arabia for refusing his pre-election plea. Double standard?

They ran those stories on Page One of their print editions the next morning, Wednesday. That evening at 7:40 p.m. in Washington, Saudi Arabia fired back, releasing a 533-word statement on Twitter and, three minutes later, on the government website, to “express its total rejection” of the U.S. view.

In the fifth paragraph, it tacitly drops a bombshell, saying “postponing the OPEC+ decision for a month, according to what has been suggested, would have negative economic consequences.” (Italics mine.)

Less than three hours later, FoxNews.com posted a story about the “Joe Pro Quo?” Within half an hour the quid pro quo angle was all over Twitter on Wednesday night, meaning the Times and Post had plenty of chance to see it.

The Washington Post waited until 5:13 a.m. on Thursday morning, 10 hours after the Saudi statement went out, to post a story online (“U.S., Saudi Arabia spar over decision to cut oil production”). It avoided any mention of any questions over a possible quid pro quo and noted “in Washington, the cuts were widely seen as a political blow to President Biden… a month before midterm elections.”

Meanwhile, the Times waited five more hours to publish its online account at 10 o’clock that morning, pointing out the pre-election timing in the story’s deck and second paragraph but avoiding any controversy or comparison to Trump/Ukraine.

The next morning, Friday, Oct. 14th, the Times buried the story on page A5 of the print edition.

Conservative media did a better job. The New York Post nailed it in a dotcom story posted at 11:52 a.m. Thursday morning: “White House cops to pushing Saudi Arabia to postpone oil cuts until after the midterms.” At 1:28 p.m., the Daily Caller posted the bluntest story so far: “Accusations Fly As Saudis Say Biden Used US Resources for Political Gain.”

Meanwhile, as of Tuesday evening, Oct. 18th, the Times and Post have run no further stories on any quid-pro-controversy involving Biden and the Saudis. Albeit the Post ran an item online about Democrats’ efforts to find new ways to punish the Saudis for cutting production and hurting the Dems’ election chances.

And just like that, this story will die in darkness. To borrow a phrase from the Washington Post ad slogan.

For my part, I never believed Trump deserved impeachment for a simple phone call.  Same goes for President Biden now. My wish is that the Times, the Post, and their acolytes were better at spotting the parallels. And more willing to report them.

Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC,andFox Business.