Jimmy Kimmel and media excuses can’t save Biden from himself

In the world according to Democrats, failures are never related to their policies or the results they generate — it’s always a problem of messaging. So even when President Biden fails epically time after time, they truly believe that his low poll numbers are simply a function of inadequately educating the public on how truly grateful they ought to be.

For the first 17 months of the Biden administration, the corporate media were there to pick up the pieces of each Biden catastrophe — the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, the ongoing crisis at the southern border, failure to corral COVID-19 as promised, daily record highs for gas prices, rampant inflation, embarrassing misstatements on the world stage, a baby formula shortage — and either recast them as successes or pin the blame on others.

Now that Mr. Biden’s approval rating is lower than former President Donald Trump’s at the same point in his presidency, the focus has shifted to White House personnel.   

In rapid succession, stories over recent weeks depicted a White House in disarray and a president who’s hopping mad that the country doesn’t appreciate his magnificence. Many of the problems were blamed on faulty communications and failure to connect with normal Americans.

CNN detailed dysfunction in the White House in a piece that made a big splash (drawing a denial from a mid-level communications staffer) and made clear that an appearance by a group of South Korean pop stars drew more eyeballs than Mr. Biden himself ever could, though he is the most powerful human on the planet.

NBC reported that Mr. Biden is “furious” that aides rush to the media to correct or clarify misstatements he has made, “arguing that he speaks genuinely and reminding his staff that he’s the one who is president.”

The media are practically begging the White House to get its act together.

In a sign that a long-discussed messaging pivot is underway, the White House agreed to send the president out for a one-on-one interview on network television Wednesday night. 

Some Republicans have been keeping track of the time that passed since Mr. Biden’s last media interview — 119 days as of Wednesday — and have mocked the choice of venue for his reemergence. 

When Mr. Biden sat under television lights for his first interview in almost four months, his interrogator was that noted news hound, asker of relentless, pointed questions, late-night talk show host and comedian, Jimmy Kimmel.

But it wasn’t a pivot. It was a pity party for the president.

On ABC from Hollywood, Mr. Kimmel used the topic of gun control to lead the president into an opportunity to bash Republicans for declining to undermine the Second Amendment, before suggesting that Mr. Biden act by executive order.

And Mr. Kimmel agreed with Mr. Biden’s premise that Republicans “don’t play it square” in political debate, while Democrats are avowed rule-followers. 

“It’s like you’re playing Monopoly with somebody who won’t pass Go or won’t follow any of the rules, and how do you ever make any progress if they’re not following the rules?” Mr. Kimmel commiserated.

Like many before him, Mr. Kimmel looked for people to blame who are not the president of the United States.

“I think you need to start yelling at people,” he advised Mr. Biden.

And he cast Mr. Biden as a victim of circumstances beyond his control.

“What a terrible job you have,” Mr. Kimmel said. “I’m glad you’re doing it, but boy oh boy, does this seem like a bad gig.”

This wasn’t an interview. It was one guy telling another guy that he’s not responsible for his own messes.

And if the White House intended to weaponize Mr. Biden’s charm on television, what they got instead was a bewildered man complaining about how hard it is to hold the office he wanted so much he ran for it three times.

(Incidentally, Mr. Biden appeared on ABC from a studio in Los Angeles, which is only about 130 miles from the southern border, a place there’s no evidence he’s ever visited.)

What ails Mr. Biden isn’t messaging. It’s not something K-pop stars or a sympathetic late-night interview can fix. 

The problem is his record as president. The media have tried mightily to protect him from himself, but even with their influence and reach, they can’t shield Mr. Biden from public scrutiny and disapproval.

If there’s a messaging problem at all, it involves the White House’s inability to understand what millions of people are saying.

A sizable majority of Americans believe that Mr. Biden is a failure, but that information gets garbled somehow before it reaches 1600 Pennsylvania.

The White House has it backward. It’s not that Americans don’t understand what Mr. Biden has done. It’s that they do.

• Tim Murtaugh is a Washington Times columnist and the founder and principal of Line Drive Public Affairs, a communication consulting firm.

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