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OPINION

Keep the Biden honeymoon phase short

There should be room for skeptical media coverage of the president-elect.

President-elect Joe Biden spoke to reporters as he arrives at the Queen Theatre to meet virtually with the US Conference of Mayors on Nov. 23 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden is currently basking in the happy honeymoon phase of media coverage.
President-elect Joe Biden spoke to reporters as he arrives at the Queen Theatre to meet virtually with the US Conference of Mayors on Nov. 23 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden is currently basking in the happy honeymoon phase of media coverage.Mark Makela/Getty

In case you missed it: A cat will be joining President-elect Joe Biden’s two pet German Shepherds — Champ and Major, a shelter rescue dog — in the White House.

Meanwhile, in other transition news, Rahm Emanuel remains in the running for secretary of transportation, as Biden weighs the former Chicago mayor’s infrastructure resumé against his record of covering up the murder of a Black teenager by a white police officer. According to the New York Times, ethical issues could entangle some of Biden’s closest advisers and others under consideration for high-ranking administration posts. And so far, Biden’s pleas for national unity are not winning over Republicans or, for that matter, Democrats.

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For now, Biden is basking in the happy honeymoon phase of media coverage. Even a hairline fracture to his foot was cast in glowing light — the result of engaging “in one of the most presidential acts of performative vigor — playing around with his dog,” as Slate put it. But the gushing, facetious or not, can’t last forever, right? There are serious issues for the press to cover. How Biden delivers for Black voters who helped him win election is one, along with potential conflicts of interest within the incoming administration and Biden’s ability to deliver on his gauzy promise that somehow we can all get along.

President Trump’s refusal to concede the election has helped to keep the Biden honeymoon going strong. The president’s “Mad King George” act, as described to The Washington Post, kept the press fixated on his dangerous, Twitter-fueled campaign to undermine democracy. Republican senators who continue to humor Trump were also rightly called to account for their enabling and spineless conduct. Meanwhile, the judges and state officials who supported the will of the people over Trump’s fantastical conspiracy theories became the warm and wonderful heroes of an unprecedented post-election story. It all benefits Biden.

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But there should also be room for skeptical coverage of the president-elect. Last week, for example, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina said Biden is falling short when it comes to naming Black leaders to top positions. His words are significant given the role Clyburn played in helping to deliver the South Carolina primary vote to Biden when the nomination seemed destined for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. In an interview with Juan Williams, Clyburn said he was happy about Biden’s selection of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as US ambassador to the United Nations. But Clyburn, a force behind Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate, wants more diversity at the top.

Biden’s consideration of Emanuel is a big problem. As my colleague Renée Graham has written, the former mayor and Obama White House chief of staff doesn’t deserve a job in Biden’s administration. Yet, according to an Axios report, he’s still in the hunt, as resistance to his selection is cast as just another rift between progressive and centrist Democrats. It’s so much more than that. Biden ran for president promising to restore the soul of the nation. That doesn’t happen with Emanuel in his cabinet. There must be an available infrastructure expert who, unlike Emanuel, didn’t hold up release of a video showing the police killing of a Black teenager to salvage his own mayoral reelection prospects.

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The New York Times also raised potential conflict-of-interest issues connected to Antony J. Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, and Avril Haines, his choice as director of national intelligence. They have ties to a consulting firm that helps companies with global interests game out Washington. Others in Biden’s inner circle have ties to an investment fund with a particular interest in military contractors, the Times reports. The myriad conflicts of the Trump administration were rightly and aggressively pursued by the media; the same should happen with the Biden administration.

Biden’s promise to get the coronavirus pandemic under control also needs an ongoing reality check — just like Trump’s promise to build a wall at Mexico’s expense.

As president, Trump labeled the press the enemy of the people, stoking hostilities his supporters embraced to a scary degree. That, plus the role the media played in 2016 to help Trump inflate the significance of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, led to some gentler coverage of Biden once he became the nominee. Now he’s the president-elect. While it will be nice to have an animal lover in the White House, the press can’t let serious scrutiny of the new administration go to the dogs.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.