A Noncandidate Drops out of a Nonrun

Desperate Democrats — and duplicitous deceptors skilled in media sleight-of-mind — dazzled a waiting nation into wishing upon the star of Joe Biden.

Now we know that the race is over for Vice President Joe Biden, who has finally confirmed that he will not run for president in 2016, ending a months-long guessing game. Biden’s decision finalizes the Democratic field of White House candidates and bolsters Hillary Rodham Clinton’s standing as the front-runner by sparing her a challenge from the popular vice president. We can’t help but wonder whether Mr. Biden informed her of his nondecision by email.

While Biden was biding his time, at least two established news organizations rushed to judgment and ran stories that are the 21st-century equivalent of the Chicago Tribune’s November 3, 1948 headline announcing the results of the presidential election: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

The Tribune might have escaped eternal shame for that headline, if not for Truman — with a banner-headline smile — holding up the paper for photographers to immortalize the ignominy.

This time, the Washington Post had a ready-to-heat-and-serve story announcing “Biden to launch a presidential campaign.”

The story went on to say, “Vice President Biden plans to enter the contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, ending months of speculation about his intentions and delivering a jolt to an already unpredictable contest, according to XXX sources familiar with his decision.”

We may never know who “XXX sources” are, and we should never have known about this story at all. But someone slipped and, instead of putting the story on ice, they heated and served it. Before the Post could pull the story, the Republicans had it and it was a secret all over the block.

We can’t say for sure, but XXX just might be Fox News, which along with all the other media outlets announced on Wednesday in an update: “Speaking from the Rose Garden of the White House, Vice President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he would not be running for President of the United States in 2016.”

But earlier Fox News coverage reported, “Sources tell FOX News Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry that Vice President Joe Biden will enter the presidential race.” And “There has been heavy speculation that Biden would run for the Democratic nomination. It was unclear, however, if he would be willing to endure the campaign trail following the death of his son earlier this year.” And “U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA-13) took to social media Monday to say Biden would be running.”

Biden’s end run around his nonrun has been the most stupefying media non-event of the year. A noncandidate drops out of a nonrun for noncandidacy, leaving us breathless, wondering what won’t happen next.

Biden is not the first noncandidate to unrun. In 1963, conservative Republican boss Charles Halleck tried to convince Senator Barry Goldwater to run for president. Goldwater begged off. Halleck told F. Clifton White, who was getting ready a draft-Goldwater campaign. White responded, “At least he didn’t pull a Sherman on us.”

“A Sherman” harks back to an earlier noncandidate. Civil War Union hero General William Tecumseh Sherman told the Republican National Convention in 1884, “I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected.”

Like bannisters, quotes get smoother and shinier with age. Sherman’s unrun is often quoted as, “If nominated, I will not accept; if elected I will not serve.”

Media’s rush to misjudgment and failure to fully check facts can be not only misleading, but deadly.

One of the worst canards some adults still tell children was cited in The Christian Recorder in 1862: “Remember the old adage, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.’ True courage consists in doing what is right, despite the jeers and sneers of our companions.”

The advice to stand up tall in the face of verbal attacks is honorable. But it can be misleading. It wasn’t bombs, but words, that helped set off the Spanish American War in 1898.

The bitter rivalry between  William Randolph Hearst’s The New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World led to each trying to outdo the other in sensationalist reporting. Even if it wasn’t necessarily true. This style came to be known as yellow journalism. The peak, or should we say nadir, of this sensationalism at the expense of truth came when yellow journalism fanned anti-Spanish public opinion and helped set off the Spanish American War.

The unholy alliance of politics and the press is a breeding ground for rumors that can kill. CAMERA and other guardians of truth fight a vigilant battle to set the record straight on misreporting in the press — especially about Israel. Usually, though, the best that can be hoped for is a correction buried on page 25 or deeper … perhaps in the classifieds.

That would make it classified information.