As President Joe Biden ended his news conference on Friday afternoon about the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, a reporter called out an especially bellicose question.
“Why do you continue to trust the Taliban, Mr. President?” the reporter said.
Notwithstanding the militant group’s poor human rights record and ultra-conservative Islamist ideology, multiple U.S. administrations have successfully negotiated with the Taliban. The Taliban have complex interests. As Biden noted on Friday, the organization is at war with the faction of the self-declared Islamic State (also known as ISIS), which is competing for power in Afghanistan.
But the reporter’s criticism-masquerading-as-query was the culmination of a week’s worth of dramatic finger-pointing and fretting from a Washington press corps that usually prides itself on neutrality.
Although the White House’s failure to foresee the rapid fall of the Afghan government and prepare accordingly has exacerbated the chaos of the U.S. withdrawal, Biden and his allies are furious with what they see as reporters’ and pundits’ unduly hawkish coverage of the exit.
“The media tends to bend over backwards to ‘both-sides’ all of their coverage, but they made an exception for this,” said Eric Schultz, a deputy press secretary under President Barack Obama. “They both-sides coverage over masks, and vaccines, and school openings and everything else. Somehow [the Afghanistan withdrawal] created a rush to judgment and a frenzy that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the de facto leader of the party’s progressive wing and Biden’s rival in the 2020 presidential primary, offered a similar assessment.
“The extent to which the media is privileging voices who have gotten this wrong for years is ridiculous,” he said. “What we’re seeing is an attempt by the Washington foreign policy establishment to expiate its sins of over 20 years by putting this on the Biden administration.”
Journalists who cover the Pentagon spend an inordinate amount of their time with current and former military officials, many of whom go on to lucrative gigs with military contractors that profited from the Afghanistan War. It’s that kind of chumminess that contributed to the media’s amplification of the specious case for the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003.