The permanent, major drop in Biden’s approval ratings was not caused by inflation. It was the coverage of his decision to end the war in Afghanistan:
The mainstream media has played a huge, underappreciated role in President Biden’s declining support over the past year. Its flawed coverage model of politics and government is bad for more than just Biden — it results in a distorted national discourse that weakens our democracy. The media needs to find a different way to cover Washington.
One of the sharpest dips in Biden’s approval rating — which has dropped from 55 percent in January 2021 to less than 39 percent today — happened last August, when it declined almost five points in a single month. There wasn’t a huge surge in gas prices, nor some big legislative failure. What caused Biden’s dip was the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan — or, rather, the media’s 24/7, highly negative coverage of it.
To be clear, Biden deserved criticism. The early stages of the U.S. exit were tumultuous, with desperate Afghans clinging to U.S. military planes and massing outside the Kabul airport. The Taliban took control far more quickly than the administration anticipated. But for much of August, the homepages of major newspapers and cable news programs were dominated by Afghanistan coverage, as if the chaotic withdrawal was the only thing happening in the world. Journalists and outlets tore into the president, with Axios calling the withdrawal “Biden’s stain,” NBC News correspondent Richard Engel declaring that “history will judge this moment as a very dark period for the United States,” and CNN’s Jake Tapper asking an administration official on his show, “Does President Biden not bear the blame for this disastrous exit from Afghanistan?”
Biden’s poll numbers plunged, closely tracking the media hysteria. As The Post’s Dana Milbank wrote in December, data analysis showed a marked increase in negativity in media coverage of Biden that started last August. After the withdrawal, the media lumped other events into its “Biden is struggling” narrative: infighting among Democrats over the party’s agenda, Democrats’ weak performances in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, rising inflation, and the surge of the delta and omicron variants. Biden’s role in these issues was often exaggerated — there are many causes of inflation besides Biden’s policies; presidents can’t stop the emergence of coronavirus variants. This anti-Biden coverage pattern remains in place.
While BothSidesim is certainly a problem, the problem in this case is the media just being hardwired to support any war that The Blob still supports. And it’s not adequate to say that “well, bad things were happening in Afghanistan, there was going to be negative coverage.” Both the (almost certainly false) implication that there was some non-“chaotic” way of ending the war, and particular the decision to claim that the immediate collapse of the nominal state and the “chaos” this made inevitable was the fault of Biden rather than the fault of the architects of the war who were still assuring us that the two-decades-long state-building project was actually going great and would be done in another Friedman Unit, are choices, not objective facts.
The incentives this creates going forward are obvious, and really bad. Perhaps the best thing Biden did as president may well result in his (or his party’s) defeat in 2024.