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Get Me Meacham! Biden Brings Back the Media’s Good Old Days

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But what of the working reporters in the White House? Most of the writers in that group are generations younger than the 78-year-old Mr. Biden. They may not have read all of Mr. Meacham’s books. And the president-elect appears to have learned from his campaign that he can mostly ignore the news media and sneer at Twitter.

He also has the advantage that Mr. Trump has so raised the bar on presidential scandals and gaffes that even his loosest talk or most questionable hire may not scandalize. But Mr. Trump has also gotten us all used to an extraordinary, if inadvertent, level of transparency. He rarely resisted answering shouted, timely questions, and his leaky White House offered journalists and their audience an X-ray portrait of a government running off the rails. The internet, meanwhile, is noisier and even more polarized than when Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama left office four years ago.

A former Obama aide, Tommy Vietor, recently advised Mr. Biden to focus on going directly to social media and to work closely with friendly left-leaning online outlets. “Give them scoops and access,” he wrote, “and grow their audiences and influence the way Trump’s team has nurtured fringe rags like Newsmax and OAN,” a reference to One America News.

That doesn’t sound like the Biden playbook. In fact, when I told Shailagh Murray, a former senior adviser to Mr. Biden, that I was writing about Mr. Biden and the media, she asked why. He’d always been so by the book, working through staff members, pretty much the same to reporters as everyone else. “I mean, it’s important … but boring,” she said of this column.

It wasn’t always boring. The only place to start is a legendary 1974 profile of then-Senator Biden in Washingtonian by the future celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley, “Death and the All-American Boy,” which goes viral every time it is posted to Twitter for a level of openness that is still shocking in 2020. He’s aware of others’ fascination with him, a handsome 31-year-old senator whose wife had just died and is raising two boys as a suddenly single father. He is startlingly open about how he dresses, about every aspect of his relationship with his late wife, about the woman he’s dating — a Capitol Hill reporter from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Francie Barnard. “Why should someone like Francie marry a guy like me who is still in love with his wife?” he asks Ms. Kelley. (Ms. Barnard died last year at age 73. Her obituary takes note of her journalism, a gender discrimination lawsuit and four marriages, one to Bob Woodward.)

It was all a bit much in 1974, and Mr. Biden later said he felt like a “sucker” for telling all. He never opened up about his personal life to a reporter quite like that again, though he allowed one, Richard Ben Cramer, deep inside his political world during the 1988 presidential campaign. And Mr. Cramer turned Biden’s noisy, hectic internal monologue, his family loyalty, his spaghetti binges and small-time real estate deals that never quite made him rich, into the most memorable chapters of the 1992 classic “What It Takes.” There, Mr. Biden was “a wild stallion who’d never felt the bridle,” with a gift for “the connect” but a maddening lack of focus.

Many politicians would be wounded by that kind of depiction. But Mr. Biden doesn’t really seem to hold grudges. He has given as much time to The Times columnist Maureen Dowd as any other journalist in recent years — even though she exposed the plagiarism that helped scuttle that 1988 campaign. And he absorbed Mr. Cramer’s portrait and even seemed to allow it to shape his public identity.





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