The news media handled reports of Joe Biden’s improper possession of classified docs very differently than they did the raid at Mar-A-Lago. Have they overplayed their hand this time?
The hate-fest between Trump and the media covering him
The press and Trump have had a long history of mutual loathing from before Day One of his presidency. It is hardly surprising that they would frame the fight between Biden’s DOJ and Trump over possession of the documents in the worst possible light.
To that point, there are people today who might swear by their own life that ‘nuclear secrets’ had been discovered in Trump’s Florida home, despite those early rumors having been dismissed even by traditional news sources.
Will Donald Trump win the 2024 election?
Until now, loaded terms like ‘treason’ had been casually thrown around by Trump’s critics (many of whom carry press credentials) and the usual NeverTrump crowd had their knives out demanding that Trump either get fitted for an orange jumpsuit, or (what they seem to have ultimately wanted since his inauguration) that Trump be formally disqualified from holding public office ever again. Biden himself, in a recent 60 Minutes interview, lambasted Trump for the personal failings of having private possession of documents with classification markings on them.
It didn’t take long before Joe’s words came back to haunt him.
UPenn Document Discovery — the Media Reacts
With the announcement that classified documents were discovered at UPenn, Biden’s allies found themselves in a difficult position. What is the correct way to frame a story about Biden with such a profound similarity to the one being used to destroy Trump?
There was little, if any, daylight between Team Biden’s official explanation, and the reporting at various news outlets. Yes, these documents were found, but this situation is completely different than Trump’s because… and whatever followed next would often fit neatly within White House talking points.
The Key Message: Trump and Biden were not the same here
The ‘because’ would focus on arguments favorable to Biden (e.g. proper reaction to the discovery, willingness to return them) rather than arguments favorable to Trump.
The latter would include arguments like the legal precedent of FOIAed information Bill Clinton had in his sock drawer but had refused to return, or that MAL has 24hr Secret Service protection, or the complicating factor of a President’s unique ability to change classification standards at his own discretion combined with claims that the items in his possession had, in fact, been so altered while Trump was still in office.
Of all the differentiators used to show these as entirely dissimilar cases that did not both require equivalent legal treatment, the go-to argument favored by the press seemed to be one of quantity. The wording would differ, but the point would be the same: Trump had boxes and boxes of classified information all over the place, but Joe Biden had this handful of papers mixed in with all of his other documents.
With a special prosecutor now assigned the task of looking into the documents Trump had in his possession, Team Biden would need a plausible rationale why Joe Biden, himself, should not be subject to the very same investigation by a special prosecutor.
With the UPenn situation, the incident had been referred to a Trump-appointed official, who was to give a report to AG Garland. Seeing as the initial discovery happened just days before the midterms (but was strangely kept quiet until after the House gavel changed hands). We can’t help but notice the discovery was made public one day after James Comer made it clear on Mark Levin’s show that his committee would be looking into whether the handling of classified documents by people NOT named Donald Trump was treated any differently than the MAL raid, and whether there was any coordination with the J6 Committee.
New revelations turn the official narrative on its head
The introduction of a second location jams a stick in the spokes of the original explanation that this was a few errant papers in a single location. It invites speculation and questions about just how many such documents exist, across how many locations, and who might have access to them.
For that reason, it invites an obvious counter-claim Trump’s own defense team could raise in objection to DOJ investigators: all of his documents (whether rightly or wrongly in his possession) were limited to a single address, and that address was under permanent guard by the Secret Service.
What of the locations where Biden’s papers have turned up? It’s impossible to say who may or may not have had access to them, let alone accidentally stumbled upon them. It is also relevant that as far as mishandling of classified documents goes, intent is not a relevant consideration in the statute.
Regardless of whether one considers one or both of these situations innocuous or criminal, the second site is very much a ‘complicating factor’.