It’s all the media’s fault

We’re a consolidated lazy miasma of ignorance – and the government is to blame for that

By Brian Karem


Published April 27, 2024 6:01AM (EDT)

President Joe Biden is departing the White House and stopping to talk to the press on his way to an event in Miami, Florida, on January 30th, 2024. (Andrew Thomas/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden is departing the White House and stopping to talk to the press on his way to an event in Miami, Florida, on January 30th, 2024. (Andrew Thomas/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Well, we finally know who to blame.

President Joe Biden unexpectedly (for the White House press pool, at least) showed up on the Howard Stern Sirius XM radio show Friday. It was a mutual love fest that surprisingly provided some insight — but you had to be a subscriber to listen.

Stern, who dressed up in a suit a little too small for his expanding girth (according to him) fawned over Biden for a bit before asking him a few noteworthy questions. Biden confirmed he’d be willing to debate Donald Trump. That was the big news. But at one point the president turned the tables and asked Stern in essence, why does the media suck today?

Stern blamed social media and Biden said he “hasn’t figured it out yet,” but that the “free press isn’t speaking up as much as it used to.” 

“Everyone is scared,” Stern argued. Biden agreed.

Excuse me?

As Samuel L. Jackson said in “Pulp Fiction”: “Allow me to retort.”

Yes, the press sucks. If you need to understand how badly we blow, I point you to David Pecker and his testimony in Manhattan this week during the first of potentially four Donald Trump felony trials. Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer, is/was an independent journalist (or the colorectal cancerous example thereof) who is a slave to the money. His brand of toiletry involves writing stories for the absolutely lowest common denominator of homo sapiens.

As H.L. Mencken once noted, homo sapiens are hopeless. “Go back through the history of the past thousand years and you will find that nine-tenths of the popular idols of the world – have been hawkers of palpable nonsense.” That’s why most stories in The National Enquirer were about things like giving birth to Big Foot’s baby, engaging in a threesome with space aliens and why Donald Trump is a great guy. Naturally, Trump loved Pecker. Read that any way you want.

And while everyone this week is taking a deep dive on what the Trump trial means for the future of the presidency and politics, few reporters are examining what it shows about the bigger picture of the press: It’s all about the Benjamins.

Fewer and fewer companies own more and more of the media outlets, independence is waning and as a result, the news business is just a cash grab built around knee-jerk reactions and preconceived notions. David Pecker’s stewardship of The National Enquirer exposes the worst problems in today’s press. He is the bottom of the barrel and some politicians absolutely love it. 

Trump took advantage of him while calling us all “Fake News.” It’s a cry that has stuck because the American public knows there’s something wrong with us – they just don’t know what it is. And that cry was taken up by Biden on Stern’s show.

“I haven’t figured it out yet.” Uh-huh. I think he has.


In short, the press is the big problem everyone says it is. And while everyone feigns ignorance about the cause of our demise, there are those who should know better – and that includes the president of the United States.

David Pecker courted Donald Trump because Trump had something Pecker wanted: influence, money and an audience. Trump courted Pecker because he wanted cover and Pecker’s easily influenced and entertained audience. Biden courted Stern because he wanted Stern's audience and Stern courted Biden because he wanted what Pecker wanted.

Who got screwed? In Trump’s case, it’s anyone who came into contact with him – including Pecker and scores of others who worked with Trump during the last five decades and had to kiss the acidic ring of fire held by Trump. By extension, we’ve all suffered, especially those who love him the most. However, as Mencken pointed out, they’re too stupid to realize that.

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In Biden’s case on the Stern show, it’s anyone who didn’t listen to Stern on subscription satellite radio. The size of his audience is debatable – but it is believed to consist of 35-44-year-old upscale listeners who make more than $100K a year.  I guess they remain attracted to Stern because of his “Fartman” bit or the fact that he once had a female guest ride a Sybian for masturbatory pleasure on his show. Hey, that’s a good demographic, and there are other reasons Biden went on Stern’s show. One of those reasons is to stick it to Donald Trump. But, again, unless you subscribe to Stern, you didn’t get to hear it.

Trump used to be a frequent guest on Stern’s show – but the two had a falling out over Trump’s politics after he became president, and last fall, Trump blasted Stern in a post  on Truth Social, calling Stern a “broken weirdo, unattractive both inside and out, trying like hell to be relevant!”

That came after Stern criticized Trump and the MAGA party for the revocation of Roe V. Wade and assorted other questionable policies supported by the former president. No doubt, Biden loved going on the show to get in a few digs. Who could blame him? Still, having the president sit down in primetime with Dan Rather would be more appealing.  

So, to continue to retort to Stern and the President, what gives anyone the idea that we are scared? There are plenty of us unafraid of either Trump or Biden, or any other president. On the contrary, I think both Trump and Biden are afraid to sit down with members of the press who aren’t afraid of them.

Trump would never sit down and do a one-on-one with a member of the press pool who publicly challenged him. How many times did I, Jim Acosta, April Ryan, Jeff Mason, or anyone else who pushed back against Trump sit down across from him and have the opportunity to extensively question him? 

Zero times. 

And how often has Biden done the same? He hasn’t even shown up in the Brady briefing room once and has had fewer encounters with the press than Trump. It’s a bit disingenuous for this president to say he hasn’t figured it out yet. I think he has. The key is to stay away from people who might ask you questions you don’t want to answer – or more importantly questions your inner circle don’t want you to answer. It’s far easier to go on a national show with an audience that suits your demographic needs – even if the host of the show is not known for interviewing presidents; or particularly because he isn’t known for that. 

When I told a Biden staffer I should have more access to the president because he always answers my questions when I’m in front of him I was told “that’s precisely why they don’t want you in front of him.”

That being said, while you can fault politicians for the de-construction and consolidation in our industry – points I’ve often covered in depth – and even wrote a book about (“Free the Press” of which I also gave a copy to Biden), it is unfair to totally blame the politicians for the day-to-day stupidity they’ve helped make possible.

Media managers could demand better. They do not. They populate the press corps with young, inexpensive, ignorant and arrogant reporters because it serves their bottom line better. The reporters, enamored and, to Stern’s point, fearful, don’t aspire to anything greater than access. They think they’re important just because they’re in the room, yet they are often more politically naïve than Howard Stern. As we gather for the “Nerd Prom” the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in D.C. this evening, what exactly are we celebrating? Our mediocrity?

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Briefings are jokes, with reporters asking questions the average American often laughs at with aplomb. We are everything everyone says we are – venal, shallow, incredibly ignorant, self-effacing, smug, arrogant and often wrong.

But every politician knows why. It’s not a mystery. We have the politicians to blame for it. Our media managers make money off of it and reporters are too stupid to see they have the power to make effective and important changes in the delivery of news because we are in the same room with the decisionmakers. 

Just once, why doesn’t the entire press corps simply ask the same question in the Brady briefing room: When can we see the president show up to take some questions? In the last few months I, and only a handful of others have asked this – though most want to see it. They are afraid to ask it, fearful of having their access diminished and never understanding of the fact that the politicians need us.

The best presidential press secretary I ever encountered was Mike McCurry, who once told me that the Clinton administration learned as much from us as we learned from them during briefings and press conferences. “Sometimes it even led to policy changes,” he said candidly.

Today, as H.L. Mencken once noted, the press has become filled with ignorance and cowardice. The presidency suffers because the administration doesn’t interact enough to learn from us, and their limited interactions are with virtual neophytes.

If Biden really is still searching for an answer to the press problem, and gets a second term, I encourage him to sit down with me and I can give it to him chapter and verse. And, if he’s really courageous, he could take some questions from me for a half hour or so. 

If he’s got the stones to do it. 

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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