ABC’s Jonathan Karl takes Joe Biden's “bridge” comments wildly out of context
Karl’s report on Biden’s agenda is riddled with misinformation and Republican messaging -- and the quotation of Biden’s “bridge” remark is flat-out dishonest
ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl on Sunday attacked President Joe Biden’s policy initiatives as extreme -- even as they remain broadly popular with the American public. Karl was so short of evidence for this claim that he had to resort to taking a statement from Biden in March 2020 out of context.
Less than 100 days into Biden’s presidency, his two major initiatives -- the COVID-19 relief package signed into law and the jobs and infrastructure proposal still making its way through Congress -- are overwhelmingly popular with the American people.
But ABC News is apparently more interested in ginning up controversy, as it led This Week on April 11 with a report from Karl attacking Biden’s agenda, complaining that he was “aiming to be a transformational president” in contrast to what he promised during the campaign.
Karl’s evidence is lacking.
To start with, many if not all of the elements of Biden’s jobs and infrastructure plan mirror the proposal put forth on his campaign website in 2020. An earlier page on infrastructure also mentioned many of these details explicitly, including ones that Karl finds controversial. Not only did Karl not mention these plans, but his analysis also makes the existence of such plans and proposals irrelevant: Karl privileges Republican messaging on infrastructure and lets it alone set the grounds for debate.
Secondly, Karl conflates unity with bipartisanship in Congress and pretends that Republicans being “the party of no” is a new thing. In reality, it was a plan hatched literally on the night of President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009; the difference now is that the Biden administration and other Democrats are confronting that GOP strategy head-on. You wouldn’t know any of that from Karl’s report.
Third, Karl erases the real widespread support for Biden’s policies. Around 72% of Americans approve of the COVID-19 relief law, according to one poll; another puts the support for the law at 75%. These numbers are virtually unheard of for legislation these days.
Similarly, the jobs and infrastructure proposal, titled the American Jobs Plan, is widely popular.
But to Karl, this unifying policy doesn’t count because it’s not what Karl (and Republicans) interpret as unity. Karl’s idea of unity is moderation -- but he never clarifies what he means by moderate; in his telling, just because Biden’s plans cost a certain amount, they cannot be moderate (even though progressive Democrats want to spend far more).
Fourth, Karl eliminates the context of climate change from these proposals entirely; while not surprising given the horrendous records of Sunday political shows and ABC News in particular on covering the climate crisis, it is horrifying to have a discussion of modern infrastructure without taking into account the crisis that is constantly challenging America’s existing and crumbling infrastructure.
Fifth, if Karl was the one drinking water from lead pipes, I doubt he would be on national network television portraying a plan to replace them as controversial. But privileged, well-to-do people like Karl are not the ones dealing with that. We know that utilities are less likely to replace those lead pipes in low-income communities of color.
But in terms of dishonesty, all of this misinformation pales in comparison to the worst moment of Karl’s report: His quotation of Biden saying that he would be a transitional president. In reality, Biden was saying that he would be a transition from his generation of Democrats to ones like then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) with whom Biden was sharing the stage at the time.
Watch for yourself:
This remark was widely reported on at the time in the proper context. John Verhovek, who covered the campaign for ABC News, even tweeted it in that context:
It’s unclear how this remark acknowledging Biden’s role within the party has anything to do with how much Biden’s infrastructure plan would cost -- and Karl never says.
Karl has been criticized previously for laundering right-wing talking points; he has participated in right-wing events, called Donald Trump a “pro-gay rights” candidate in 2016, and apologized in 2012 for botching a report on Benghazi.