On its face, it’s not a big deal.
Joe Biden, thinking his microphone was off, called Fox’s Peter Doocy a “stupid son of a bitch” after the latter lobbed a question to the President about the political impact of high inflation. Once it was clear he was speaking on a hot mic, Biden quickly called to apologize to Doocy.
And, scene. This is just the sort of tempest in the teapot that Washington obsesses over (Biden said a bad word!) and that the average voter couldn’t care less about.
Which means we shouldn’t linger too long on this episode. After all, presidents have been caught on hot mics before saying less than complimentary things and it has never mattered to their presidency. Not one bit.
Before we move on, however, I do think it’s worth pointing out one thing: How utterly normal the news cycle of Biden’s “son of a bitch” comments was.
The President said something he shouldn’t have said. It was both nasty and an unnecessary distraction. Within about an hour of saying it, he had called Doocy to personally apologize.
Now, compare that series of events to what we all experienced over the previous four years.
Donald Trump regularly berated and belittled members of the media, and never once apologized.
“I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” he told NBC’s Peter Alexander in March 2020. “That’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”
“You are a rude, terrible person,” Trump told CNN’s Jim Acosta in late 2018. “You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”
In that same press conference, Trump called PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor, a woman of color, a “racist” for asking a question about white nationalists supporting him.
And, of course, Trump repeatedly called the media “the enemy of the people” – in person and on Twitter – throughout his presidency.
Rather than apologize, Trump wore his willingness to attack those who covered him – often in personal terms – as a badge of honor. He would tout his willingness to tell off individual reporters to adoring crowds, suggesting that he was the only one in the country to tell the truth about the media.
This lowering of the bar – in terms of the relationship between a president and the media – was part of a broader effort by Trump to fundamentally alter what it meant to be president. Trump cast this approach – via tweet – as “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL” but, in truth, it was simply bad manners. Rudeness turned into political strategy.
That Biden called a reporter a “stupid son of a bitch” is regrettable. That he called to apologize for it is commendable.
Don’t disregard the fact that we now have a president, again, who operates under the normal rules of decorum and politeness. When a president does the right thing, it trickles down to the rest of society. And, as we saw over the past 4 years, the opposite is also true.