President Biden’s team had scheduled him on a globe-circling week of red-eye, nighttime flights to three back-to-back-to-back world summits. It was the sort of no-rest schedule President Richard Nixon, as a 56-year-old president, forbid his staff to schedule.
Nov. 10: Biden, just days before turning 80, flew all night to Egypt. Nov. 11: He landed, addressed a global climate summit, then flew all night to Cambodia. Nov. 12: He landed, spoke to the ASEAN summit.
Yup, Biden began by thanking his host: “I want to thank the Prime Minister of — for Colombia’s leadership in the ASEAN — as ASEAN chair and for hosting all of us.” It’s Cambodia, not Colombia.
The New York Times dutifully reported the gaffe, but preceded it with this explanatory context: “It was his second overnight flight in two days, and though the president did not appear publicly in Phnom Penh until late afternoon, the travel seemed to be taking a toll.”
But that also failed to tell readers the full story. Two days earlier, a fully rested Biden had made the same gaffe while talking to reporters on the South Lawn, before boarding his helicopter. He said he’d be flying to Egypt and “then heading over to Colombia and then — I mean, Cambodia. I was thinking — I’m thinking the Western Hemisphere. And then off to Indonesia.”
Several days later, as Biden was in Bali, Indonesia, at the G20 summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies, I saw something on TV I’d never seen in decades of covering these summits. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pulled up a chair and sat just inches from Biden’s left shoulder while the president was speaking. Blinken leaned in and seemed to be monitoring Biden’s text. After that session, Biden’s aides announced he was skipping the traditional gala dinner for unspecified reasons.
Biden’s Colombia/Cambodia gaffes were widely reported internationally. Some U.S. media mentioned them, others didn’t. Would the coverage have been skimpy if the gaffes were uttered by Biden’s predecessor? We’ll never know. But this I do know – what is happening isn’t necessarily media bias, because of two factors.
One: Biden also spent a lot of time at these summits discussing the various global issues in great detail. Two: Biden already earned a reputation for blurting gaffes. We thought it was just Joe being Joe.
Today, I have no idea how much extra “age” baggage – if any! – Biden has acquired in his annual travels around the sun. But it may be something Joe and Jill need to be talking about during this holiday season.