September 6, 2011

Biden’s ‘Barbarians’ Blast Barely a Media Blip

BidenBarbarians090511Yesterday, at organized labor’s traditional Labor Day picnic at Cincinnati’s Coney Island amusement park, Vice President Joe Biden gave the keynote address. His key lines, as reported by Carl Weiser at the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Politics Extra blog (video is here at MRC-TV): “… this is a different kind of fight. This is a fight for the heart and soul of the labor movement. This is a fight for the existence of organized labor. You are the only ones who can stop the barbarians at the gate! That’s why they want you so bad.”

Biden’s statement is in an important aspect more problematic than the more widely (but not sufficiently widely) noted “son of a b*tches” comment made by Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. in Detroit yesterday at a Labor Day event President Obama keynoted. While Hoffa was threatening and hateful, he was at least in theory speaking only for Big Labor (though Obama has essentially adopted it by not condemning it). In Cincinnati, Biden, who was elected to serve all citizens of the country, personally characterized a large plurality of those he is supposed to be serving with a word which means “savage, primitive, uncivilized persons.” Biden’s “barbarians”comment has received very light establishment press coverage, as did what appears to have been a singularly unimpressive number of people who actually heard his speech:

  • The Associated Press’s main web site returns nothing relevant in a search on Biden’s last name. I found a brief AP item (i.e., considered a local story) at Cincinnati TV station WKRC’s web site which does not mention the comment.
  • At the New York Times, a search on his last name indicates that there was no mention of Biden’s comment anywhere — and only a brief “Early Word” squib this morning about his appearance.
  • At the Washington Post, a search on “Biden barbarians” (not in quotes) indicates that there’s no news story, but there is a Q&A with columnist Eugene Robinson where a participants asks whether Hoffa’s or Biden’s comment is worse. As to Biden, Robinson writes: “As for Biden’t (sic) “barbarians” reference, well, I don’t think he’d get too offended if you called him a barbarian right back.” Sure, Eugene.
  • At the LA Times, a search on “Biden barbarians” (not in quotes) comes up empty.
  • More generally, a September 5-6 Google News search on “Biden barbarians” (not in quotes, sorted by date) returns 12 items. None are establishment press outlets.
  • Broadening as far as possible, a September 5-6 Google web search on “Biden barbarians” (not in quotes, with all similar items) returns 530 items (it says over 76,000, but the list ends at 530), which is a relative drop in the bucket. The vast majority are blogs, forums, bulletin boards, and New Media outlets. Exceptions include the Politico, the Nation (post title by John Nichols: “A Top Democrat Actually Gets It: Biden Makes a Stand With Labor”), The Hill, the Columbus Dispatch, and Cincinnati public radio station WVXU.
  • Biden’s comment did get mentioned by in the final paragraph of a story primarily about Hoffa (“Tea Party wants apology for Hoffa’s SOB comment”): “Tea Party activists also expressed displeasure for Vice President Joe Biden, who told a Labor Day rally in Cincinnati that they were ‘the only folks keeping the barbarians from the gates.’”
  • As to local TV stations, WKRC didn’t mention the comment in its five-paragraph web story (though the second commenter at the story did) or its TV report. WCPO’s coverage didn’t either, but its story did one service, noting that the Vice President spoke to “about 1,000 union members.” WCPO said that total attendance at the day’s festivities was expected to be “up to 20,000.” Though it did post Biden’s entire speech, WLWT’s story, which noted “up to 15,000″ event attendees, didn’t bring up the comment.’s coverage mentioned that Biden “tried to life the spirits of hundreds of Ohioans in his speech,” and didn’t mention the “barbarians” comment.

The aforementioned Cincinnati Enquirer did not mention Biden’s comment in its print edition coverage of the event this morning.

In his blog post, the Enquirer’s Weiser claimed that “About 2,000 people were inside the barricade as the vice president took the stage; many more outside the barricades in the picnic shelters could see and hear the vice president.” Even at the high end of the speech’s audience estimate, perhaps 15% of the crowd cared enough to hear what Biden had to say. Clearly, far more attendees were interested in the very low-priced all-day amusement park access. That’s another story element the non-local press completely ignored.

Cross-posted at


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