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The Wall Street Journal’s story about Biden’s mental acuity suffers from glaring problems

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.
New York CNN —
The Wall Street Journal owes its readers — and the public — better.
The business broadsheet published and hyped a story Wednesday declaring that “behind closed doors,” President Joe Biden has shown “signs of slipping.” The story questioned Biden’s mental acuity, playing into a GOP-propelled narrative that the 81-year-old president lacks the fitness to hold the nation’s highest office.
But an examination of the report reveals a glaring problem: Most of the sources reporters Annie Linskey and Siobhan Hughes relied on were Republicans. In fact, buried in the story, the reporters themselves acknowledged that they had drawn their sweeping conclusion based on GOP sources who, obviously, have an incentive to make comments that will damage Biden’s candidacy.
“Most of those who said Biden performed poorly were Republicans, but some Democrats said that he showed his age in several of the exchanges,” Linskey and Hughes conceded. The duo also noted that they had spoken to sources in the administration “who found no fault” with the way Biden conducted himself in meetings for which they were present.
Republicans accusing their political foe of lacking the mental fitness to hold office is nothing surprising. Such accusations are made every night on Fox News. And Donald Trump, who at 77 years old has also shown plenty of signs of waning mental faculties, including repeatedly falling asleep at his own high-stakes hush money trial, has made the accusation a centerpiece of his campaign. In other words, these accusations from the right aren’t exactly news.
“It’s a little surprising that The Wall Street Journal thought it was breaking news when congressional Republicans told them the same false claims they’ve spouted on Fox News for years,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said, “but it’s also telling that the only individuals willing to smear the President in this story are political opponents afraid to use their names — plus one proven liar.”
Even more inexplicable is why The Journal would quote former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the piece as a serious person speaking in good faith. McCarthy is, in fact, a MAGA Republican who has for years lied on behalf of Trump. I’m sure reporters at The Journal would acknowledge McCarthy’s extreme record of dishonesty in private. So why present him to readers as an honest arbiter of reality?
The New York Times’ Katie Rogers and Annie Karni even reported last year that McCarthy had praised Biden’s mental faculties when speaking amongst confidantes — a starkly different tune than the one he is now singing in public. “Privately, Mr. McCarthy has told allies that he has found Mr. Biden to be mentally sharp in meetings,” Rogers and Karni reported in March 2023. Rogers re-upped that reporting on Wednesday in the wake of The Journal’s story.
Bizarrely, while quoting McCarthy, The Journal apparently ignored on-the-record statements provided by high-ranking Democrats. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disclosed that she spoke to the newspaper, but she was notably not quoted in the piece. Other Democrats went public on Wednesday with similar experiences. Instead, one of the only on-the-record quotes in the entire story was delivered by the former Republican leader who would lie about the color of the sky if it pleased Trump.
“The Journal ignored testimony by Democrats, focused on attacks by Republicans and printed a hit piece,” Pelosi protested on X.
Hughes responded to the criticism Wednesday, telling “CNN News Central” that her job “is to be the agent of the reader” and that she is not going to “publish the quote provided to me or us by every single Democrat.”
A spokesperson for The Journal told me that the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, which is under the stewardship of newish editor Emma Tucker, “stands by its reporting.” If Tucker is comfortable with such shoddy journalism, it is worrisome.
It is difficult to imagine that the newspaper, or any outlet, would run a similar story declaring that Trump is “slipping” behind the scenes based on the word of top Democratic figures — despite the fact that the Democratic leadership has demonstrated a much stronger relationship with the truth in recent years than their Republican counterparts.
More broadly speaking, The Journal’s piece pointed to a continued problem roiling the news media as it covers the 2024 election. Trump is permitted to fall asleep in court and make nonsensical public statements on a routine basis without any serious questions raised about his mental acuity. Meanwhile, Biden is judged on an entirely different standard.
Where are the stories about Trump’s former inner circle raising questions about his mental fitness? Alyssa Farah Griffin, who served as his communications director, has publicly stated that Trump is “not as sharp” as he once was. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, has also repeatedly raised issues about the Republican candidate’s mental fitness, describing him as “declining” and “diminished” and “not the same person he was in 2016.”
“Hope the Wall Street Journal feels free to reach out to any one of us who worked in the Trump Admin. Happy to discuss Trump’s mental acuity & fitness for office,” Olivia Troye, a former Trump administration official, sarcastically wrote on X. “We can start with the closed doors discussions on milkshakes during intel briefings, windmills causing cancer, what bleach does & doesn’t do & go from there.”



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