Joe Biden gives the media a desperately needed lesson about Donald Trump

Joe Biden JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
Joe Biden JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
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The most disturbing thing I’ve ever heard a president say did not come from Donald Trump.

It came from Joe Biden. Speaking with reporters in California on Thursday, the president said this about Donald Trump. “Two of your former colleagues not at the same network personally told me if he wins, they will have to leave the country because he’s threatened to put them in jail,” Biden told Katie Couric. “He embraces political violence,” Biden said of Trump “No president since the Civil War has done that. Embrace it. Encourages it.”

Perhaps I should have been shocked at the revelation that Trump, should he return to power, would jail reporters. I wasn’t of course. I had to fight him (and beat him) three times in court during his first administration to keep my White House press pass. I had already privately heard Trump’s threats. It was just disturbing to hear Joe Biden confirm it publicly.  

I have already been jailed four times trying to defend my First Amendment rights when I covered a criminal case in Texas years ago.  I spent a total of about two weeks in jail for that and do not want to repeat my experience. I am not alone. There are at least a dozen reporters in this country who’ve done the same thing: gone to jail to protect their rights.  We call ourselves the First Jailbirds Club. 

A few years back we got together at the National Press Club to speak about our experience. The group had never gathered before. We found that while our experiences were very different, we all shared one thing in common: Those who demanded we go to jail, whether they were with a city, county, state or federal government agency,  claimed to support the First Amendment. They just didn’t think it applied in our case.

The fate of Alexei Navalny in Russia reminds us of the most extreme example of what can occur when members of the government don’t respect free speech or, for that matter, political opposition. But, the fate of Julian Assange is also a reminder that it isn’t just Trump who is an enemy of the free press. Biden’s Department of Justice could drop the prosecution of Assange picked up under the Trump administration yet  has not done so. The Wikileaks founder has been languishing in prison for five years and has been battling extradition and felony charges in the U.S. for nearly 13 years for publishing classified government documents based on the idea that the public had a right to know.

Imagine if Assange were extradited back to the U.S. prior to the November election. Trump would accuse Biden of persecuting journalists while being guilty of the crime himself.

It boils down to this: For a reporter to trust what any politician says is not only foolish but dangerous. Some won’t jail you. They all will lie to you.

I have always had a mistrust of authority, since I was a young child and saw our next door neighbor, a police officer, harass and confiscate illegal fireworks from neighbors on the Fourth of July, only to bring them to his house and light them off.

“My contempt of authority … made me an authority myself,” Albert Einstein said. I know of what he speaks. Experience is the ultimate teacher and only those who have it can understand.

As an example, as often as I would preach to my oldest son when he was young that he should not stick his finger in a Christmas tree light socket, he didn’t really understand until he suffered the consequences of doing it. He soon became an authority on that subject.

My experience tells me that Donald Trump means exactly what he says, and there are plenty of politicians who would do the same if they had the chance. Worse, in covering the Hamas war, a record number of reporters have been murdered in an attempt to silence those of us who risk it all to inform others. Those in power do not want us to inform everyone else about what is going on. To do so would be to risk losing control over the masses. 

How long shall we tolerate politicians who are so hungry for power that they will risk destroying us all to get it? 

The press, of course, are rascals in their own right. But the difference is we cannot do anything but report vetted facts, although many times we do that poorly – often because of government intervention – directly and indirectly. We remain trapped by the politician who owns the pulpit and can operate the levers of power. The politician can jail the reporter. The reporter cannot jail the politician. We also remain trapped by the public who’ve been manipulated by the government into thinking we’re the problem.

To be a reporter you must either have a thick hide if you wish to do your job correctly, or a limited intellect or lack courage if you do not. You can avoid being pilloried, but only if you either play the game with those who wield the power, or are too stupid to understand the game being played. 

While standing outside of President Biden’s appearance at a library in Culver City, California on Wednesday, I saw a protester screaming “Genocide Joe has to Go!” I approached the protester who carried a bullhorn and asked “why do you call him Genocide Joe?” It was a simple question and an obvious one to ask. Instead of answering it, the person I asked became angry and accused me of being stupid, a Zionist, a racist, a CIA operative, and several other choice invectives that caused me to chuckle. 

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, I ran into a protester waving an Israeli flag outside of the White House. He was shouting that all Palestinians were Hamas terrorists. I asked, “Do you really think everyone in Gaza is a terrorist?” I had to ask for obvious reasons, but I was told then I was an anti-Zionist, a Hamas supporter and probably a terrorist. 

I’ve also been called a Trump supporter for asking someone if they thought Biden was old. And called a communist, a fascist, and a Biden supporter for simply pointing out the fact that Trump lost the 2020 election. I can’t help but chuckle at it all. 

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Since none of those who have said these things about me, or any other reporter, actually knows us, I cannot take the insults seriously. But I do take the emotion behind them seriously.

America is suffering from a disease. While we can only hope, as Einstein did, that the present crisis can lead to a better world, so far we’ve seen very little evidence of that possibility. We’ve only seen the psychic distemper brought about by excessive nationalism and the equally violent response to it. 

The extremists at both end of the political spectrum are contributing to a lack of trust of the press, but make no mistake, Trump’s intentions are beyond misunderstanding. He is the catalyst and the driving force behind the disharmony. Remove him and while there may not be a cessation of the stupidity, there will be a calming of the waters.

That is why the world cannot see Trump back in the White House. He knows nothing but divisiveness. And Biden was right to point out that Trump wants to jail reporters.

Trump supporters don’t care. But I’ve eaten Texas jail food, so I do.

When Einstein fled Germany he fled the poison of nationalism and longed for a country of civil liberty and tolerance. The closest he found was here in the United States. Where is it today? More importantly, where will it be after the November general election?