The Speedy Biden News Cycle

Hype, meet backlash.

At 3 a.m. on Saturday, after most in the political establishment had gone to bed, disappointed and, more commonly, indignant that Barack Obama hadn’t yet announced his choice of a running mate, millions of cell phones began vibrating. The wee-houred national cacophony—buzzes, rings, tinny renditions of “Canon in D” and “In Da Club” and “Sweet Home Alabama”—heralded two things of note: first, that the lowly text-message—its uses in the past generally confined to confirming plans (“gr8! c u there!”) and drunken flirting (“looved talking 2 u…cn i have yr number?”)—was moving up in the world (“Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee”). And second: So, too, was Joe Biden.

Yep, it was official: Biden won the veepstakes! (Other-Joe-mentum!) Bloom, meet rose! Hype, meet fulfillment!, meet vindication! For a moment, on Saturday, Biden was the golden boy—the running-mate-designate.

But, then again, he was also the embodiment of the frenzied, frustrated speculation in which the political press had been engaging for the previous days/weeks/months. So, predictably, and faster than you can say “Scranton, Pennsylvania,” Hype met Backlash. The proverbial hype cycle—buzz, hype, backlash-to-the-hype—being, as it was, already heated in the pressure cooker that was the end of the week’s myopic, manic Veepstakes-apalooza, burst. Joe Biden, Toast of the Political Press, became…well, Joe Biden, Toast of the Political Press.

Here’s The New York Times’s lede in its front-page announcing the Biden pick:

Senator Barack Obama has chosen Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware to be his running mate, turning to a leading authority on foreign policy and a longtime Washington hand to fill out the Democratic ticket, Mr. Obama announced in text and e-mail messages early Saturday.

And here’s a graf from Patrick Healy’s assessment of Biden’s role, in today’s Times:

Yet even though Mr. Biden comes to the Democratic ticket with decades of political relationships and personal history in electoral battleground states that Mr. Obama, who joined the Senate in 2005, cannot match, the new team’s advisers acknowledge that Mr. Biden is not a cure-all for the political challenges facing Mr. Obama, of Illinois. After all, he lost the Democratic primaries this year in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as unofficial nominating contests in Florida and Michigan, to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

It’s an imperfect science, of course, tracking the overall tone of coverage in the space of two-and-a-half days. Still, a pattern emerges: after months (years?) of Biden buzz—the Hype—came the Thing Being Hyped, after which came mixed reviews (working class hero! but also puts his foot in his mouth!), after which came…the backlash. (He’s too old! He’s too straight-talking! He’s too bald!)

But the backlash, I’d argue, may have to do with the particulars of the announcement of his selection: the hype-building delay, the ample time given for reporters to analyze the merits of other candidates, the semi-letdown of learning that the Guy Everyone Thought Would Be the Nominee was, in fact, the nominee. And the fact that the announcement everyone had been waiting for came—uber-letdown!—when everyone was sleeping. (“We confirmed the news after midnight, and then after trying to get a little sleep, this text message at about 3:00 am ET woke us up,” NBC’s First Read team wrote, frustration seeping into their words.) Most reporters would agree that the humor value in the 3 a.m. announcement (get it? because that’s when Hillary’s phone would ring in the White House?) wasn’t worth the wee-houred wake-up call.

The real test of Biden-in-the-press, then, will come later, once the Delaware senator has divorced himself from the announcement of his being picked. Until then, it’s all about the hype.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.