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Biden Has Covid: What That Means
He should be OK. And the press should get a grip.
I’m getting back into the online realm—just in time for news this morning that Joe Biden has tested positive for Covid, and for the final presentation this evening of the January 6 committee’s evidence.
Three points before this evening’s events.
1. Getting Covid, when old.
I am roughly two presidential-terms younger than Joe Biden. He is 79. I am 72. I can only begin to imagine how disorienting it is for Biden to be a living fossil in American politics, considering that at age 29 he was one of the youngest people ever elected to the U.S. Senate.
(Anyone first known as remarkably “young” in a particular job, as Biden was, has to adjust to becoming known as “old.” Bill Clinton, now senior statesman, was a boy-wonder governor of Arkansas. Jimmy Carter, the oldest-ever former president, was among the youngest presidents when sworn in. Al Gore was in Congress in his 20s and first ran for president at age 39.)
But I’ll share my experience of what it is like, as a “mature” American, to finally get a positive test result. This happened to me about six weeks ago.
I had tried like crazy to avoid exposure. Some people are now “double-boosted”—the original two vaccinations, plus two boosters. I’ll just say, I’ve had at least that many shots. My wife, Deb, and I barely left our home during the first year of the pandemic. Since then, we’ve avoided most travel, and have gone by car or our propeller plane whenever we could.
But about six weeks ago, I suddenly tested positive—on the excellent free library-based PCR tests in DC, confirmed on our rapid-result home antigen test. How did I get it? No doubt by going to a college reunion a few days earlier—either en route through airport exposure, where people with violent hacking coughs wore no masks (though I had a N95 mask on the whole time), or at a reunion dinner.
Who knows exactly where or how. It doesn’t matter.
I would rather not have gotten infected. I live in fear of long-term Covid effects. But once it happened, it wasn’t that bad. For two days I had a cough and felt tired. Then for about ten days I felt entirely normal—but stayed hermit-like by myself in a separate part of the house. Deb, who kept her distance, has still always tested negative.
Via Zoom, I talked with my doctor the first day I tested positive. I asked about Paxlovid; she said that unless the symptoms got worse (which they didn’t), I should avoid it or any other drugs (which I did). By Day 11 after the first positive test, I was testing negative again. Soon after that, I was able to do a public event in DC—a wonderful Politics & Prose bookstore discussion with the author Patrick Radden Keefe, about his new book Rogues. For now, my Covid experience seems to be over.
Moral? You’d rather not get this disease. But if you’re vaccinated, it doesn’t have to be that bad, even if you’re old. Let’s hope that is the case for Biden.
2. The White House press corps has lost its mind, or at least its perspective.
More than twenty-five years ago, in my book Breaking the News, I wrote about the gulf between the gotcha obsessions of the White House press corps, and the issues most Americans were most interested in learning about.
The press is supposed to be a proxy for the public’s interests. Too often, it’s a proxy only for itself.
Today offered a classic illustration—if you can stand to watch it, which I recommend that you don’t. It’s the C-Span clip of this afternoon’s full White House briefing, when officials Karine Jean-Pierre (the press secretary) and Dr. Ashish Jha (the Covid advisor) answered questions about Biden’s diagnosis
The questions included: Where was a comma placed, and why, in the White House doctor’s letter? (Time 30:30). And, was a White House videographer unfairly exposed when recording a video of Biden that was shot outdoors. (Time 13:17)? And, what about wild hypotheticals? (Time 50:09). And, how was the White House going to track people Biden had met recently? (Trust me: this is not hard. Anyone who has met an incumbent president, remembers it.)
That is, the representatives of the public asked questions it would not have occurred to any other Americans to wonder about.
The whole tone was nit-picking and prosecutorial. And it reflected no awareness of the difference between the last time a serving president tested positive for Covid—when Trump was rushed to Walter Reed, in secrecy and with lies about his real condition—and now, when Biden’s team promptly and routinely announced the testing news.
“There are real flashbacks to when Trump got Covid, and he ended up spending several days at Walter Reed,” a White House reporter for a major network told the network’s anchor just after the press conference. (I’m intentionally not using the reporter’s name, or the network’s; it’s a systemic rather than an individual problem.)
Actually, there aren’t “real flashbacks.” Trump lied about his condition, and co-opted his staff in that effort. He was also in much more serious medical peril, in an era before vaccinations and boosters. Comments like these are meant as “context,” but appear without any context. History is important. Just plugging in “here’s something that happened before” isn’t history and doesn’t help.
I’ll say it again: the hoary phrase, “See things steady, and see them whole” is a goal for the media. These are words you won’t see in the White House press room, or a TV green room.
3. Where the January 6 Hearings Leave Us.
The committee has so far done an exceptional job in laying out its case, and keeping its members from getting in the way. I gave some of the early play-by-play here.
Soon I’ll tune in, and plan to weigh in by tomorrow.
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