Ignoring it is not working.
“As the public’s attention shifts away from Afghanistan, Mr. Biden’s decision may seem less like a failure and more like a sober, even necessary end to a policy that was doomed from the start.” wrote Michael Kazin for the the New York Times on August 19, striking a hopeful note.
At that point the Biden Administration was likely still betting, as Kazin concluded, that the public would soon forget about Afghanistan.
Kazin’s article, “To Save His Presidency, Biden Must Tell the Truth About Afghanistan,” probably took more than a few progressives by surprise. The implication that President Joe Biden was misleading the public on Afghanistan and putting his administration at risk was mystifying at the time.
Things looked bad in Afghanistan alright; but Kazin, along with plenty of other progressives, believed the worst to be over. At least at first.
That was before a terrorist attack killed 13 military service people during the harrowing evacuation from Kabul Airport on August 26. Before last week, when a New York Times investigation exposed the U.S. military strike which followed as something far from the strategic action the American public was led to believe.
What was first billed as a decisive move to neutralize the immediate threat of a second terrorist attack on the airport seems instead to have been the bombing of an aid worker carrying water. He was killed along with his entire family, including seven children.
While a military investigation is still ongoing, it doesn’t look good.
Worse still may be the leaked transcript of a conversation between President Joe Biden and then-Afghan President Ghani during which the former asked the latter to counter the perception that the Afghan government was losing to the Taliban, “whether it’s true or not.”
White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki can decline to comment on leaks all day, but the call transcript wasn’t published by Red State; the story was broken by Reuters, which is as trusted as any news organization gets these days.
Nevertheless, the story is spreading like wildfire on conservative media, unchecked by any competing narrative from more mainstream sources, which are stubbornly ignoring it.
The Biden Administration has two problems with this leaked call: The leak and the call.
The leak is something that should be keeping Biden officials up at night. Leaks are a problem which plagued the previous administration into the ground, and ultimately derailed it- though many of the so-called “leaks”were later revealed as less than truthful.
Once a smear is lobbed, it doesn’t matter if it is later proven false. Or never proven at all. A not-insignificant portion of the population will alwaysbelieve the smear, come what may. You can’t unring a bell, as you probably learned in high school during a lecture on not spreading malicious rumors about fellow classmates.
Nor is this leak the last the Biden Administration is likely to suffer. The current state of the media, and the rise of the online social forum, has created the perfect storm for snitches and whistleblowers.
Especially those insiders willing to snitch on the left.
There are a million fawning articles about Vice President Kamala Harris; on everything from her groundbreaking accomplishment for civil rights to her choice of footwear. Every publication from the New York Times to Marie Claire is awash with them. As a result, they are a dime a dozen.
If you are a writer, journalist, or Citizen Kane, and you want to write a story like that, good luck. Get in line. It starts about 1,000 miles back, bumper to bumper all the way. Better make it good and good luck coming up with something a dozen writers more famous than you haven’t already covered.
Want to snitch on Kamala Harris? The wide-open highway is all yours. There is no competition, at least 80 million people in the U.S. who would love to hear about it, and plenty of money in it too.
Her staff hates her; everyone hates her. She’s too unpopular. She is an incompetent bully. She is being quietly replaced with Pete Buttigieg- it doesn’t matter the rumor. The more salacious, the better.
Now it may be that Democratic Party insiders on Capitol Hill are grooming Pete Buttigieg to replace Harris on the Democratic ticket in 2024; maybe not. It doesn’t have to be true; that’s the beauty of leaks in the era of journalistic click-bait. By the time the truth comes out, everyone has moved on.
And it’s almost impossible to a negative, anyway. Prove you aren’t scheming to replace Kamala Harris with Pete Buttigieg in 2024. Go on, prove it.
What is certainly true is that these stories have hurt Harris badly. She has the historically dismal polling numbers to prove it.
This is the perfect environment for snitches because all the incentive is on making waves. Right now, with the media establishment still unified in opposition to Donald Trump, the easiest way to make waves is to criticize popular Democrats.
Insiders willing to leak damaging information about Harris or Biden have a winning lottery ticket.
Fortune and glory, or party loyalty?
Plenty of people choose the latter, bless them. Their moral compass, strong character, and the strength of their convictions guides them. They act in a way that is congruent with their values system, even when faced with universal human temptations like money and power.
Regrettably, there are also people who choose the former. Most of them don’t think of themselves as bad people, and they probably aren’t. But like most of us, they are very good at doing what they want first, then justifying it later with reasoning that is, at best, convoluted.
Money and attention in the attention economy are powerful motivators.
The second problem with the call is the call itself. CNN and MSNBC can ignore it all they like. That strategy might have even worked in 2014. Or 2016. Or even in 2020.
These days, however, viewership for those networks has dwindled to a shadow of what it once was. Conservative, and many independent, voters have turned the channel forever and they aren’t turning back.
Conservatives once had Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Now they have too many conservative and independent news sources to name.
And there is no shortage of grist for the mill.
Every time mainstream media outlets ignore a major story, a conservative journalist gets their wings. This is a supply and demand economy. What mainstream media outlets refuse to supply, 80 million people still demand. Someone was bound to capitalize and fill that niche in the marketplace.
As a result, the conservative news niche has grown into a many-headed hydra that even all the powers of Silicon Valley combined are finding it impossible to swat down.
The Biden Administration can deal with these issues, and it must. The Congressional testimony of U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken today proves the Afghanistan story has legs, arms, and any number of deadly heads.
Afghanistan isn’t like Benghazi; and the media environment is nothing like it was in those days either.
The sooner popular Democrats get out in front of this, the sooner they eliminate the incentive for leakers, the sooner voters will be able to move on. Ignoring it will not make it go away.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)