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Joe Biden needs a better media strategy, and he needs it now | COMMENTARY

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, Wednesday, Sept. 2, about school reopenings.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, Wednesday, Sept. 2, about school reopenings. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Former vice president Joe Biden needs to get his media act together, and he needs to do it fast. After Labor Day, there is little or no room anymore for media mistakes or a fuzzy media focus.

The Democratic candidate continues to let President Trump control the conversation of this campaign, and that is a major mistake. All the millions of dollars he is spending on social media and TV ads won’t help if his campaign doesn’t set its own course in what the ads talk about to American voters.

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The extent to which Mr. Biden is letting the president determine his media moves hit home for me with a Biden campaign ad posted on Aug. 27 titled “Keep Up.” It was clearly a response to Mr. Trump having labeled the 77-year-old Mr. Biden “Sleepy Joe” earlier in the campaign.

“Some people are always in a hurry. They run when they could walk, race up steps when others take it slow,” a narrator says at the start of the ad.

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The words are accompanied by images of Mr. Biden running up the steps to the vice president’s plane, walking fast and riding a bicycle. “When Joe Biden is president, America’s just going to have to keep up,” the narrator continues.

I wondered if this was going to become a series of ads culminating with Mr. Biden bare-chested on horseback like the widely ridiculed images of Russian President Vladmir Putin. I am only half kidding. The ad was a waste of money and possibly an insult to some citizens’ intelligence.

Don’t try to sell me on the incredible speed and energy of a 77-year-old candidate. I am not buying speed when I vote for someone that age. I am buying experience, temperament, endurance, perspective and maybe even wisdom. Besides, by Aug. 27, Mr. Biden had already blown up Mr. Trump’s adolescent, schoolyard, nicknaming game with speeches so clear-headed and strong that Mr. Trump had backed off the “Sleepy Joe” talk. He is now saying he wants Mr. Biden drug tested before their scheduled debate this month. The insinuation: Mr. Biden is taking some kind of performance enhancing drug.

So, why spend your money on a see-Joe-run-up-the-steps ad a week after a successful performance by Mr. Biden at the Democratic National Convention?

Furthermore, since the convention, Mr. Biden’s campaign has continued to react to Mr. Trump instead of acting on its own agenda.

Mr. Trump has been calling Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders in cities where social justice protests continue “weak.” So, Mr. Biden countered in a speech Aug. 31 by calling Mr. Trump weak.

Mr. Trump went to Kenosha, Wisconsin Tuesday in the wake of violence there, including a 17-year-old supporter allegedly shooting and killing two protesters — acts the president characterized as self-defense. So, Mr. Biden went to Kenosha Thursday.

I get the larger strategy of positioning Mr. Biden as the opposite of Mr. Trump. The president met primarily with law enforcement authorities and business owners in Kenosha, while Mr. Biden met with the family of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by police when they tried to arrest him on Aug. 23. Mr. Blake remained hospitalized as of Friday, paralyzed from the waist down, according to family members. Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Blake on the phone Thursday.

But being the anti-Trump candidate is not enough. In emphasizing how different he is from Mr. Trump, the former vice president is still letting the president determine the parameters of the 2020 presidential conversation. It is still about Mr. Trump and not Mr. Biden.

Not only does that seem like it could be a losing strategy for the Democratic candidate, I am certain it is a losing strategy for citizens and the country.

We are facing monumental, existential issues with COVID-19, a reeling economy, a growing gulf between the rich and almost everyone else, and what some see as a cold civil war with what remains of the long dominant white culture trying to hold back the inevitable tide of multiculturalism and a new order of shared power.

Mr. Biden needs to use the next two months to get us talking, thinking and debating how we’re going to get out of the troubled place in which we now find ourselves. And for that he needs a media strategy as direct and clear as a Franklin Roosevelt fireside chat. That’s a lot harder than behaving better than Mr. Trump. And the clock is ticking.

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David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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