When you’ve lost part of the New York Times. . .

My friend who is keeping me apprised of the New York Times’ coverage of the Afghanistan debacle detects what strike me as moods swings when it comes to the treatment of Joe Biden. To criticize or to coverup, that is the question.

The Times seems to be doing both, depending to some degree whether seasoned reporters or folks from the editorial section are doing the writing.

My friend reports:

Between Biden’s speech and the completion of the pull-out, NYT’s coverage of Afghanistan is even more extensive today than it’s been in recent weeks. Overall, the Times is pretty tough on Biden. It does not take his speech at face value but points as politely as possible to a number of the president’s contradictions and misrepresentations.

There does seem to be some tension, however, between an editorial faction that would like to protect Biden and plump for recognition of the Taliban, an open-door policy for refugees, etc., on the one hand, and, on the other, long-time reporters on the foreign beat who understand Biden’s flaws, his precarious political situation, and the viewpoint of the president’s critics.

Biden skepticism comes through most clearly in the cover story on the president’s speech, and in a news analysis by Peter Baker. Baker’s piece is not typical NYT fare. It quotes extensively from Republican critics, highlights Biden’s broken promise on Americans left behind, and takes us on a tour of Biden’s shifting and contradictory account of his policy.

A competing news analysis piece by Max Fisher (this one, unlike Baker’s, is on the front page) makes the case that the “U.S. and Taliban need each other.” This echoes the argument of an Op-Ed the other day by a member of the Times editorial board. It’s a fascinating and useful piece that lays out some of the competing imperatives now facing America in the region.

Yet in considering the Taliban’s leverage over America, it makes no mention of the stranded Americans. Nor is there anything on the military resistance to the Taliban now centered in the Panjshir Valley, although that resistance is mentioned in one of the news accounts. In this piece, potential critics of recognizing the Taliban loom as crude and annoying obstacles to wise policy.

There is definitely more focus than usual today on the plight of stranded Americans. For the first time, an entire story is dedicated to the issue. The human interest story at the center of this article is about a legal permanent resident, rather than an American citizen. Yet the status of stranded American citizens is mentioned repeatedly, and Republicans who decry abandoning citizens “behind enemy lines” are quoted.

On the other hand, neither here nor anywhere else does the Times raise the possibility that Americans still caught in Afghanistan might be turned into hostages. For the most part, the Times takes the minimalist numerical estimates provided by the State Department at face value.

At one point, however, the Times does say, “at least” hundreds of U.S. citizens are “stranded” in Afghanistan. That “at least” implies a bit of skepticism. And yes, NYT does call our citizens left behind “stranded.”

What about the story, discussed by John Hinderaker below, of Joe Biden’s call in which he urged Afghanistan’s president to pretend the war against the Taliban was going well? Of this, my friend says:

Yesterday’s big exclusive from Reuters showing that President Biden knew the Afghan army was collapsing, yet did nothing to modify his withdrawal plans accordingly, goes unmentioned in today’s print edition of the Times. Is this because the Reuters story came too late for inclusion? It’s hard to tell.

The Reuters report presents a significant challenge for tomorrow’s edition of the Times.

Indeed. Stay tuned.

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