Column: The Media's Silly First Draft of 'Historic'

February 24th, 2023 5:57 AM

One of the worst glorifications of journalism is to call it “the first rough draft of history.” At least old Washington Post boss Philip Graham once blustered about “our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history.”

Some events are so catastrophic – think September 11 – that you know it’s historic in real time. But most of history cannot be proclaimed within the day it occurs. The adjective “historic” is often used to boost leaders and themes in a way that sounds like advertising instead of journalism.

When Kevin McCarthy took over as Speaker of the House a few weeks back, that wasn’t “historic.” On PBS, Washington Week host Yamiche Alcindor spoke discouraging words about his “rocky, rocky week” with Republican “hardliners.” But Hakeem Jeffries and the Democrats who lost the majority were boosted as the “new historic group leading the Democratic Party in the House.”  

When President Biden made a surprise trip to Kiev, MSNBC quickly put these words on screen: “Biden Makes Historic Trip to Ukraine.” How on Earth do they know this is dramatic history in the making? Will this be seen as “historic” in two years? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is historic, but we don’t know whether Biden’s five hours in the capital are crucial.

It's nauseating when the cable “news” networks bring out their liberal historians to make dramatic comparisons. On MSNBC, Douglas Brinkley compared Ukrainian leader Volodomyr Zelensky to Churchill, and then proclaimed that for Biden, “it’s like when JFK went to Berlin in 1961...Biden did something really heroic.” That’s double-glorifying Democrats.

Also on MSNBC, Michael Beschloss argued that most modern presidents visit war zones in areas that are “well-controlled” by our military, but not Biden in Ukraine! “To find a day of this kind of presidential bravery in a war zone, you've got to go all the way back to 1864, July, when Abraham Lincoln as President went to see Confederate soldiers firing on Washington, DC.”

Remember how the liberal pundits mocked Dick “Five Deferments” Cheney when it came to his lack of service in Vietnam? Joe Biden also drew five deferments, but the “historians” are comparing him in stature and bravery to Lincoln. Put him on Mount Rushmore, boys!

When modern Republican presidents visited war zones, the Old Media went looking for negative angles. It was not “historic.” In 2003, George W. Bush seemed to be lugging around some plastic turkey for Thanksgiving in Iraq. Reporters called it a “publicity stunt.” In 2018, the media flipped sides shamelessly – from bashing President Trump for not spending Christmas with U.S. troops, to bashing him for not visiting them sooner after he made a surprise trip to Iraq. It was a “campaign stop.” Yahoo News even promoted snotty tweets mocking the First Lady’s fashions: "Melania Trump gets mocked for wearing Timberland boots while visiting the troops.”

MSNBC is apparently so sure of history that it can imagine What Might Have Been. Their national security analyst Marc Polymeropoulos proclaimed that if Trump had won the 2020 election, “Ukraine would be part of Russia, the NATO alliance would be shattered.” Then, in a perfect DNC pirouette, he gushed that on Biden’s trip to Europe, he is welcomed not only as “the savior of Ukraine, but also the savior of Europe.”

This is why cable “news” sounds more like hour after hour of partisan spin control rather than an objective recounting of facts. We have no idea when or whether Russia will admit defeat and withdraw from Ukraine, but we do know Biden will be painted as a heroic G.I. Joe well into 2024.