MEDIA

News Organizations Caught In Biden Limbo Along With Biden

The vice president's delay has fueled more intense media attention than he's gotten during seven years in office.

NEW YORK -- “Will He Run? Biden Speculation Mounts.”

That Wall Street Journal headline appeared on June 28, but it could be just as applicable this week as Vice President Joe Biden still is in the process of considering a third run for president, challenging Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and insurgent candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt).

The summer Biden boomlet has stretched into fall as unnamed confidants, friends, advisers -- and apparently Biden himself -- provide fodder for journalists trying to advance the story.

The biggest nugget came in that June 28 Journal story, which reported that Beau Biden urged his father to run for president before his death in May -- details attributed to “Biden friends and advisers.” This was followed by a Maureen Down column in the Times describing the scene in vivid detail. But Politico unleashed the latest torrent of speculation Tuesday with a different angle on the son’s dying wish. Edward-Isaac Dovere reported that the vice president himself had told Dowd about Beau’s wish that he run -- an anecdote relayed without attribution in her Aug. 1 column.

Politico framed the story as Biden having "leaked" his private exchange with Beau as a calculated move to anonymously advertise his intentions in pages of the Times. A more charitable characterization might be that Biden had a conversation with Dowd, telling a story about his son that he’d told others, and allowed her to use it without attribution.

Biden’s office denounced the Politico story without commenting specifically on whether he spoke to Dowd. “The bottom line on the Politico story is that it is categorically false and the characterization is offensive,” a spokesperson said in a statement. Dowd did not return calls requesting comment as to how the interaction with her source played out.

Regardless of who called who first, the Politico "exclusive" was just the latest course in a feeding frenzy of Biden news that -- even considered collectively -- hasn't added up to all that much. The vice president remains, much like in June, on the edge of running. And being in that political limbo has given him the type of intense political coverage that basically has eluded his office for years.

In February, CNN reported that Biden would make a decision "by the end of the summer." U.S. News reported in June that a decision would come by the end of July. CNN reported that advisers had instructed him to choose whether to run by the end of September. In August, the Associated Press reported that a decision was coming after a weeklong retreat with his family; two weeks later, the AP reported that he would make a decision by Oct. 1. In September, the Wall Street Journal said a decision could come "well into the fall." This week, CBS News reported that he could come down one way or another within seven to 10 days. At some point along the way, it became clear that things weren't moving as quickly as envisioned, which prompted Salon to run a piece in late September titled "What is Taking Joe Biden So Long?" This week, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank lampooned the "never-ending" Biden delay.

Google the phrase "Will he or won't he," and you'll find a Weekly Standard article on Biden from April, a Politico item from August, an MSNBC segment from a few weeks later and a Washington Post article from October. The Post followed up that article Wednesday by polling readers about whether or not they think the VP will run.

On Tuesday, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News all did segments on Dovere’s piece, which itself came on the heels of a separate "exclusive" from colleague Mike Allen Monday that Biden is expected to make a decision by next weekend.

While Biden has spoken publicly about uncertainty about running and his grieving process, he’s given the press little by way of firm dates (which, of course, he may still not know). That’s forced journalists to turn to sources in or around the VP's orbit, most of whom will only speak anonymously -- a “Democrat close to the process,” a “former Senate colleague,” a “longtime friend," in Allen’s case. Some “friends” even expressed their concerns about Biden running to The New York Times in August, saying they were hesitant to do so directly to the vice president. And some Democratic senators channeled their concerns Wednesday through CNN. The Washington Post conducted a Q&A with its own reporter, Paul Kane, who has covered Biden over the years, to glean whatever insights he might have. 

News outlets have been placed in a difficult position: fearful of missing a major campaign development but forced, in a way, to cover a candidate who doesn't exist. Many have declined to assign someone permanently to the story. Still, a nascent Biden beat has developed in recent months, largely comprised of reporters who reported on him as a senator, a candidate in 2008 and 2012 or are currently tasked with covering the White House.

The Los Angeles Times’ Mike Memoli and ABC News’ Arlette Saenz, who covered Biden as campaigns embeds in 2008 and 2012 respectively, are among the Washington reporters covering any news developments or public appearances. Associated Press White House reporter Josh Lederman has been covering Biden 2016 news at his organization.

Several New York Times reporters across the politics and White House desks -- including Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Martin, Amy Chozick, Carl Hulse, Jason Horowitz, and Peter Baker -- have contributed to the paper's Biden 2016 coverage in recent months. Though The Times has not assigned anyone to Biden full-time, political editor Carolyn Ryan said in an email that “we are discussing how to cover him when and if he gets in.”

The Huffington Post hasn’t assigned anyone to the Biden beat, either, but did report on July 18 that he was still considering a run. The Journal’s Colleen Nelson and Peter Nicholas, who wrote the aforementioned June 28 article, along with White House reporter Carol Lee, have all covered the Biden buzz in recent months (and years!).

Dovere, a White House reporter who cleverly broke the details of Biden’s emotional interview with Late Show host Stephen Colbert by attending the show in person, has taken the lead on the Biden 2016 beat, according to editor Susan Glasser.

When a sitting veep is maybe running for president against his former Secretary of State colleague, our appetite for that coverage is running pretty high at the moment,” Glasser said.

Biden may decide not to throw his hat in the ring at all. But by drawing out his decision over several months, the would-be candidate has accomplished something remarkable. The press coverage of him is more intense now than at any point during his actual time as vice president, save, perhaps, the immediate aftermath of his endorsement of gay marriage.

CONVERSATIONS