The New York Times wants Biden gone — but they seem OK with a convicted felon

Lies, confusion and garbage - the presidential debate was everything we feared

By Brian Karem


Published June 29, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Joe Biden and The New York Times (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden and The New York Times (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

A day after the first presidential debate, President Joe Biden energetically took the stage in Raleigh, N.C. to talk about his less-than-stellar performance in Atlanta on Thursday night.

“I know I’m not a young man. I don’t walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But . . .I know how to tell the truth,” he said. His upbeat energy was a direct contrast to his laconic actions in a debate against Donald Trump the previous night.

Several Democrats and The New York Times called for Biden’s head. The editorial board at the Times penned an opinion piece with the headline, “To Serve His Country, President Biden Should Leave the Race.”

Hold on just one second, if we can. The Republican Party is circling the wagons defending convicted felon Donald Trump while the New York Times and a few Democrats are ready to burn Biden at the stake because of a poor performance in one debate.

Whoever prepped Biden for the debate should be fired. They overstuffed him with information he couldn’t get out of his mouth while Trump ignored the facts and shouted horrendous lies. All Biden had to do, in answering anything Trump said was respond, “My opponent is a convicted felon. I think it’s abhorrent that he's even here.” He never did that. Politically, Biden brought a stiletto and Trump brought a sawed-off shotgun. 

Did Joe Biden screw the pooch? Yep. But so did Donald Trump. 

Thursday night at CNN's studios, Biden was definitely a disappointment. He started off slowly. He stumbled, cleared his throat often, stared into space occasionally and seemed to need a glass of water. We were first told he was suffering from a cold. After the debate, he told reporters he had a sore throat. Who’d expect he’d do better? He has never faced the White House press corps in the briefing room - which is the best prep for a debate.

Donald Trump glared, looked grim, stared, and did nothing but lie. Mind you, he was energetic, illustrative and delusional. In other words, he’s everything we’ve come to expect out of Donald Trump. Reality and Trump are not ships that pass in the night, they’re not even on the same sea.  Whether it was Roe v. Wade, inflation, immigration, veteran affairs, the war in the Middle East, Ukraine, or Russia, Donald Trump lied. But he looked good, we were told, doing it. 

As one Republican explained to me about Trump, “He’s a consummate liar. What else would you expect from him?” As one Democrat explained to me about the president, “Biden took a week off to prep at Camp David and all he did was catch a cold.” Democrats were upset that when asked about Roe V. Wade, Biden fumbled his response. Republicans were happy Trump didn’t answer any questions and turned every question into an attack on Biden.

After about 45 minutes of indulging Trump, Biden finally and firmly called Trump a liar. “The only convicted felon here is the man I'm staring at right now, " he said before going on to mention Trump’s felony convictions for paying off an adult film actress he had sex with while his wife was pregnant, finally finishing with a flourish by saying Donald Trump “has the morals of an alley cat.”

Meanwhile, Trump said he did nothing wrong, Biden was the real criminal, and then he compared Palestinians to Nazis and white Supremacists marching in Charlottesville. The moderators never called him on that. The next day, Trump repeated his use of “Palestinian” as an insult on the campaign trail.

And for all that this debate was, ultimately it was a dumpster fire of biblical proportions because the moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash acted as AI questioners and timekeepers rather than moderators. It was a complete abdication of journalistic responsibility.

In an email to his supporters the following day, Trump even thanked CNN for giving him the opportunity to mop the floor with Biden. 

We need your help to stay independent

When Trump said Biden didn’t have Vladimir Putin’s respect, Biden could have jumped in, but as a moderator, independent of the politics, why didn’t someone ask “Why the Hell would we want Putin’s respect?” 

Biden, a few minutes later, called Putin a war criminal, but Trump’s statement went unchallenged. It’s important as a moderator to point out some of the basics – independently of the debaters. 

It’s also important for a moderator to keep the debaters focused on answering the questions, instead of allowing them to use their time to insult their opponent. Bash at least attempted this at one crucial juncture – when she asked Trump the same question I asked him six weeks before the 2020 election – would he accept the results of the election. She tried valiantly to get an answer out of Trump as he took the opportunity to bash his opponent while avoiding the question. In the end, he gave the same answer he gave me – only if he believes the election was free and fair. We all know he would only believe that if he won. Yet the debate moved on. 

Biden scored his best hit on Trump when he discussed the former president’s 2020 election loss. “You’re such a whiner. No courts said your claims had any merit when you lost the first time. Not one. Yet you continue to provoke this lie. You can’t stand the loss. Something snapped in you when you lost last time.”

Of course, he missed a key point on immigration. All Biden had to do when Trump started shooting his mouth off about immigration was say, “hey, we had it solved, but you had your guys in Congress kill it so you could run on the issue.” End of story. 

Watching the debate was akin to watching “Two grumpy old men tell the kids to get off their lawn,” as a young Democrat explained to me Thursday after the debate. She lives in Arizona and said the debate did nothing to settle the question about who is a better candidate. “One is a convicted felon and a liar and the other stares off into space. I probably won’t even vote,” she told me. Others I spoke with after the debate echoed top Democrats and said Biden should step aside. 

“They talked more about their golf game than they talked about women’s healthcare,” one registered Democrat told me. “I hate Donald Trump,” a registered Republican explained. “He’s a convicted criminal, and a habitual liar, but Biden is barely there.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom defended Biden, as did Vice President Kamala Harris, though she admitted it wasn’t Biden’s best performance. Still, it can be said of Biden’s awful performance Thursday that he at least tried to answer questions. Trump never did. 

Trump never never enunciated a cogent policy and the moderators didn’t press him to do so. He never gave us a vetted fact. He lied and stoked the fire of fear and hatred. He called our country a third world nation and said the world was laughing at us.

One of the most egregious of Trump’s fictional representations occurred when he used the national stage to again try to rewrite history about the January 6 insurrection. He lied about the riotous event, disavowed any responsibility and then blamed Nancy Pelosi for what occurred.

I was there. I know first-hand what happened. Trump stirred up the crowd, Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat,” and then they sent the crowd to march on the Capitol. Every single person I interviewed as they marched said they were going to the Capitol because Donald Trump told them to go. It wasn’t peaceful. It wasn’t a protest. And Trump was silent for three hours while it occurred. Pelosi had nothing to do with it.

It was all Donald Trump. 

At the end of the day, despite all of the handwringing and spinning,  neither candidate could claim a knockout at the debate – although Trump and his minions continue to claim they did so. But facts exist independent of their conjured reality and nothing can be done about that. Did Joe Biden screw the pooch? Yep. But so did Donald Trump. 

For those voters in the battleground states, there were facts fumbled by Biden, and there was bullshit wielded by Trump.  “One of these two won’t be in the final round of Jeopardy,” a Biden operative told me. A Trump operative told me nearly the same thing. Both of them think their guy will be there.

They might both be right. But I don’t think so. 

At the end of the day, it was probably a wash – at least in the short run. Millions didn’t watch the debate and will get their news from both campaigns, who will cut up the debate and use their favorite statements in campaign advertising.

What remains to be seen is what happens at the conventions.

The Republicans are going to continue to defend a convicted felon.

The Democrats, who always seem to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory have already proceeded to eat their own – or are trying to. I don’t see either party dumping their candidate because of what happened Thursday. But I could be wrong. If the Democrats panic enough, then, as Sam Donaldson told me late Thursday night, we could be witnessing “the political death of Joe Biden.”

Biden, after leaving the debates, stopped at a local Atlanta waffle house and when asked about his performance said it was hard to debate a consummate liar. Yeah. So, why did you Joe? There are some who say it was a politically fatal mistake – and they may be right. 

I do see a long, hot summer of lies, distortions, greed, hatred and fear on the horizon, whether Biden stays in the race or not. 

On the one hand, you have a grumpy old man saying we’re a Third World nation. On the other, you have a stuttering old man who says we’re the envy of the world. 

They can’t both be right.

And soon, one of them may be gone.

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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Cnn Commentary Debate Donald Trump Elections 2024 Joe Biden New York Times