Joe Biden, MSNBC and 2024: Is liberal propaganda distorting our perception?

MSNBC viewers are told that Biden is the greatest president since FDR. Why don't the American public agree?

Published September 17, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

US President Joe Biden speaks during an event celebrating the lowering of drug pricing in the East Room of the White House on August 29, 2023 in Washington DC, United States. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden speaks during an event celebrating the lowering of drug pricing in the East Room of the White House on August 29, 2023 in Washington DC, United States. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

One of the conceits of MSNBC-watching liberals is that while Fox News serves up a steady stream of propaganda, they are getting the straight news from MSNBC. 

One of the hallmarks of propaganda is selective outrage. Fox News generally defends the superwealthy (the "job creators") and their tax cuts, but is outraged by one particular billionaire: Democratic donor George Soros. At MSNBC, there is outrage over rich right-wing donors and Russian oligarchs, but not so much over powerful U.S. oligarchs, especially if they lean Democratic. 

Another hallmark of propaganda is selective facts. Fox News cherry-picks video clips and factoids to portray President Biden as a weakling who is captive of his party's left wing or the Chinese Communist Party, or both. He's not. On MSNBC, he's portrayed as a transformative agent of change, and sometimes as the second coming of FDR. He's not that either. 

To credulous news consumers who reside snugly in the bubble of corporate liberal media (from the New York Times and the Washington Post to MSNBC and CNN to public broadcasting), the Biden administration has racked up powerful, even historic, legislative achievements. Which makes it hard for many liberal news consumers to fathom why the general public seems unaware of Biden's great accomplishments, with his approval rating at 39 percent in the latest CNN poll. 

Is it possible that those glued to corporate liberal media — a demographic that skews older and richer than those who tune out the news — are being propagandized and oversold on Biden? Today, pro-Biden outlets report almost daily on how the president has confronted the climate crisis through the Inflation Reduction Act, a small step forward aimed at spurring investment in renewables. This is where selective facts enter the picture. These same outlets keep marginalizing Biden's recent reversals that are worsening the crisis — and summer 2023 was "the hottest season the world has ever seen.

To news consumers snugly inside the bubble of corporate liberal media, the Biden administration has racked up powerful, even historic, legislative achievements.

Here's how Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., summarized those reversals in a Washington Post interview that received little mainstream media pick-up: "The Biden administration has reverted to an all-of-the-above strategy. They are green-lighting one fossil project after another, more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, a new LNG export facility in Alaska, a massive North Sea drilling operation called the Willow Project, the Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline. And they've failed to absolutely educate Americans about the immediacy of the challenge and how dramatically we need to operate in order to take it on." 

Merkley mentioned that Washington needs to secure agreements with other countries to stop new fossil fuel projects: "But how can the U.S. ask for that when we're approving a whole lot more fossil projects here at home." The senator concluded: "On this most important issue facing humanity, Team Biden is failing." 

Despite massive pressure from environmentalists that began in 2021, including from young activists who will be needed for Democrats to defeat GOP neofascism in 2024, Biden has stubbornly refused to declare a climate emergency. Such a declaration would give him broader powers to act — to move forward instead of in reverse. 

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On the issue of student loan debt, Biden stubbornly resisted lobbying that began in early 2021 from grassroots groups (and even from Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer) to go big and rely on the Higher Education Act of 1965 to cancel up to $50,000 in debt per person. Even though student debt falls hardest on Black women, Biden opposed cancellation by disingenuously claiming that he didn't want to help rich Ivy Leaguers. After 19 months of pressure from the Democratic base, Biden yielded and his administration canceled some student debt based on COVID emergency legislation — a move ultimately blocked by the reactionary Supreme Court. 

Advocates for universal health care are also fully aware of Biden's stubbornness; they remember his stunning comment during the 2020 campaign that if Congress somehow passed Medicare for All, he might actually veto it as president. Candidate Biden did promise to lower the age of Medicare eligibility to 60, a change that would materially improve the lives of millions. But he has taken no action

The cost of health care — which causes most bankruptcies in our country — is one of those inequality crises that smothers millions of Americans, most of whom don't consume MSNBC or corporate liberal media. Major reforms would be noticed even by these low-news consumers. If you're inside the liberal news media bubble, you've been told regularly how Team Biden and the Inflation Reduction Act are lowering the cost of insulin and 10 other widely-used medications. It's an important step forward. But it's dwarfed by the enormity of the health care crisis and has not yet impacted enough voters. (More federal funds would be available for health care and other domestic needs if Biden and Congress didn't keep enlarging the already-bloated military budget, a topic that gets little scrutiny or criticism from corporate liberal outlets.) 

Which brings us to why many MSNBC viewers are bewildered by the lack of public support for a president who they see hailed nightly for his grand achievements. In last week's national poll showing Biden at 39 percent approval, one of the more disturbing numbers is that 58 percent said the president's policies have worsened economic conditions. Sure, some of those naysayers are consuming daily disinformation from right-wing propaganda outlets like Fox News. But most aren't inside the right-wing media bubble. 

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As prices rise and working-class and middle-class people struggle to pay bills, Biden has been unable to persuade many of them that he's "on their side." While progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders have spent almost two years spotlighting how corporate greed has fueled inflation (with proposals to address "greedflation"), that populist message is not one Biden is able or willing to convey. And it's certainly not a message you'll hear in liberal outlets owned by giant corporations or billionaires

Given the quasi-fascist threat represented by Trump and the MAGA movement, it's understandable that many who care about democracy feel the need to rally around Biden. But it's long past time for progressives and Democrats to yank their heads out of the sand and quit being pacified by pro-Biden adulation on MSNBC or CNN and their 24/7 all-Trump/all-indictments coverage. These indictments may not stop Trump. 

Trump and Trumpism need to be defeated at the ballot box, and we need to confront the fact that Biden would be a weak candidate next year. Putting aside his age, he's weak because he appears incapable of addressing the crises people are experiencing. His re-election campaign team seems clueless about the issues that persuadable voters care about (as shown by their recent Ukraine ad). Most of the public doesn't want Biden to run for re-election. Most Democratic-leaning voters don't want him to run again either — especially those not propagandized nightly by MSNBC. 

After a wide-open presidential primary process in 2020, Democrats and progressives came together to defeat Trump. We may need that open process again in 2024 to defeat Trump or Trumpism. For that to happen, Joe Biden would have to step aside. The sooner the better. 

By Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is co-founder of, a retired journalism professor at Ithaca College and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR.

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