Nothing like that ever happened, Biden finally says: Last night, on 60 Minutes, Norah O’Donnell interviewed Vice President Biden about his decision not to run for president.
At this point, there’s little apparent reason to believe the things Biden says. But at one point, a remarkable exchange occurred.
O’Donnell asked about the melodramatic “deathbed” story which got its start in an unsourced, highly novelistic column by Maureen Dowd.
In the story, Biden’s dying son, with his last few nouns, begs Biden to try to keep the Clintons out of the White House. The Clinton-hating melodrama was ugly and over the top even by the standards established by Dowd down through these many long years.
Last night, O’Donnell asked Biden about this widely-repeated story. “Nothing like that ever, ever happened,” Biden said.
Below, you see the entire exchange. In our view, O’Donnell left several questions unasked:
O’DONNELL (10/25/15): There was a lot you had to weigh in this run for president. I know you talked to your son, Beau, about running for president. What did he want you to do?Nothing like that ever, ever happened? It wasn’t anything like that? This extends and complicates an episode which is truly disgraceful, even by the garbage can journalistic standards of Dowd and the New York Times.
BIDEN: Well, first thing I'd like to do, and you're being very polite the way you're asking me the question. Because some people have written that, you know, Beau on his deathbed said, “Dad, you've got to run,” and there was this sort of Hollywood moment that, you know, nothing like that ever, ever happened.
Beau from the time he was in his 30s, or actually his late 20s, was my—he and Hunter were one of my two most reliable advisers. And Beau all along thought that I should run and I could win.
But there was not what was sort of made out as kind of this Hollywood-esque thing, that at the last minute Beau grabbed my hand and said, “Dad, you’ve got to run, like, win one for the Gipper.” It wasn’t anything like that.
Let’s start with a basic point. We can’t assume that Biden’s statement to O’Donnell is accurate. He is now contradicting a story he left uncorrected for almost three months. No one can say, with perfect certainty, what the ultimate truth is.
Still, Biden is contradicting a highly dramatic claim by the Times’ most famous columnist. In a standard bit of professional courtesy, O’Donnell failed to mention Dowd’s name on the program last night.
Howe bizarre is the New York Times? Matters quickly got worse at Dowd’s horrible newspaper when her column appeared. On that same day—in that same Sunday edition—the Times ran a front-page news report by the always ludicrous Amy Chozick.
Chozick took Dowd’s unsourced claims and used them as the source for the account shown below. In this strange way, Dowd’s unsourced claims were instantly put to use in a front-page news report:
CHOZICK (8/2/15): On Saturday, the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported that Mr. Biden had been holding meetings at his residence, “talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in” to challenge Mrs. Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two nominating states.“That’s what Beau would have wanted me to do?” Was that supposed to be a quote by Vice President Biden?
One longtime Biden supporter said the vice president had been deeply moved by his son’s desire for him to run.
“He was so close to Beau and it was so heartbreaking that, frankly, I thought initially he wouldn't have the heart,” the supporter, Michael Thornton, a Boston lawyer, said in an interview. “But I've had indications that maybe he does want to—and ‘that’s what Beau would have wanted me to do.’ ”
Ms. Dowd reported that as Beau Biden lay dying from brain cancer, he ''tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” Mr. Biden's other son, Hunter, also encouraged him to run, she wrote.
As usual, there was no way to tell from Chozick’s slippery journalistic technique, which typifies the way the Times covers domestic politics.
At any rate:
“Nothing like that ever happened,” Biden said last night. But how strange! In the August 2 New York Times, it happened twice, in two separate places—in Dowd’s column in the Sunday Review and in Chozick’s news report on the paper’s front page.
“Nothing like that ever, ever happened?” The problems continue from there. Let’s count the authors of these problems, starting with O’Donnell:
First, O’Donnell failed to ask Biden if he had been the source for Dowd’s column. Presumably, he would have said no—but Politico made that claim on October 6, citing “multiple sources.”
O’Donnell failed to ask a second question. If nothing like that ever happened, why did Biden leave the story unchallenged over the past three months?
Why did Biden let the widely-repeated story go uncorrected? At this point, let’s note the specific part of Dowd’s story which made it so appalling.
Weeks before Dowd’s column appeared, the Wall Street Journal had reported that Biden’s son had urged him to run for president. There was nothing newsworthy about that report. It produced zero buzz.
Dowd massively amped the story by injecting it with classic Clinton-hatred. When she banged the drum slowly in the manner shown here, the low-interest story took off:
DOWD (8/2/15): When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk.With his last few nouns, the dying man rose from his bed to trash the Clintons one last time! By now, he could barely speak, but he was still valiantly trying to keep them out of the White House!
“Of course, honey,” the vice president replied.
At the table, Beau told his dad he was worried about him.
My kid’s dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he’s making sure I’m O.K.
“Dad, I know you don’t give a damn about money,” Beau told him, dismissing the idea that his father would take some sort of cushy job after the vice presidency to cash in.
Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.
Hunter also pushed his father, telling him, “Dad, it’s who you are.”
After Dowd injected the story with this trademark venom, the moribund story took off. “Nothing like that ever happened,” Biden has now finally said, revealing a rather large hole in his own basic character.
Let’s state the obvious! It was the dying man's attack on the Clintons which made this story take off. But in two otherwise useful blog posts about Biden’s denial, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple seems to be playing a bit dumb today about that obvious fact.
Far worse, so is Dean Baquet, the New York Times’ executive editor. Is Baquet even minimally competent? If so, he was being baldly dishonest in this presentation to Wemple, who sought comment from the Times about what Biden said:
WEMPLE (10/26/15): Columnist Maureen Dowd wasn’t alone in her now-disputed reporting on Vice President Biden’s considerations regarding a 2016 presidential run, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told the Erik Wemple Blog today. “I know that the vice president is now saying this wasn’t true, but if you look at coverage, every news organization in America had sources close to him describing this,” said Baquet.Simply put, Baquet is being dishonest. No one but the New York Times reported this story the way Dowd did. Once Dowd injected the story with venom, other journalists stood in line to repeat the lurid tale.
No one had sources close to Biden describing what Dowd described. They all stampeded off to use the grisly Dowd as their source. Surely, the great Baquet must know that. He’s just dissembling again.
People like O’Donnell and Wemple will be inclined to tiptoe around this matter in various ways. Other figures will try to avoid this event altogether.
Dowd is powerful, as is the Times. Among journalists who play for pay, a code of silence has surrounded such conduct for the past twenty-five years. The liberal world has accepted this conduct, and this code, every step of the way.
That said, several obvious questions have arisen again:
On what basis did the Times allow Dowd to publish her unsourced, lurid story? On what basis did the Times allow Chozick to use Dowd’s unsourced column as the source for a front-page news report?
Biden has now said that it never, ever happened! Now more than ever, real journalists would insist that the Times explain what occurred.
We have few real journalists. What we have instead is a gang of hustlers, grabbers and clowns, including quite a few who get sold to us as “liberals.”
We also have a possible hint about the source for Dowd’s tale, if we assume she had a source at all:
During last night’s interview, O’Donnell waited until Jill Biden had “stepped out” of the room to ask Joe Biden about this matter. After Jill Biden left the room, this was her very next question.
Did Dowd actually have a source? If she did, our money’s still on Hunter Biden. But watching last night’s sequence, we dreamed up another contender.
Who will insist that the Times explain? Don’t bet on Jonathan Alter!