In yesterday’s Sunday edition of the New York Times, where all the news is “fit to print,” they saw fit to run an article about President Biden’s grief. The lede involved the anger felt by the father of one of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan last month upon his meeting with Biden at the Dover Air Force Base. Only one of those bereaved parents was judged for their grief.
Spoiler Alert: It was President Biden.
The original headline of the article written by NYT reporter Katie Rogers looked like this:
After getting justifiably slammed on social media about the wording, the headline was changed to read, “In Invoking Beau, Biden Broaches a Loss That’s Guided His Presidency.” Sadly, the original headline was much more reflective of the actual text. The reporter seemed to revel in the anger felt towards Biden from a Gold Star father.. There was a glee and breathlessness to her writing that felt more like click bait than Sunday paper above-the -fold commentary.
The article was actually as much about how Biden’s grief rubs people the wrong way as it was about how it guides his presidency, which he himself has acknowledged time and again. And, here’s another spoiler alert for you, the people that Biden’s grief seems to rub the wrong way are all people who are of the GOP voting variety.
I tweeted yesterday minutes after reading the article, “It feels fair and predictable to me that Biden would use his grief in this way. It also feels fair and predictable to me that newly grieving parents would not give a fig about Beau, esp. if they voted for Trump.”
Just as it is understandable to me that Biden is compelled to bring up his son, it is equally understandable that a newly bereaved parent would not want to hear about that son. Both of those things can be true and neither of those grieving parents is wrong in that regard.
This NYT article serves to amplify the profound and destructive political division that exists within America today. Parental grieving, both fresh and less fresh, simply becomes the latest arena where Americans can be angry at one another. To what end? There was also the clear undercurrent, highlighted with quotes from unnamed sources, that Biden should simply move on already.
For better or worse, I am someone who knows grief intimately. I worked as a clinical social worker in a retirement community for a decade and during that time one of my duties was to act as the bereavement counselor/coordinator for the onsite hospice. Later, I would gain more personal insight into grief with the loss of my mother, father, and daughter, who, like Beau Biden, died of an aggressive brain tumor.
My grief is a defining part of who I am. It has altered and informed my parenting, my relationships, my career, my life choices, my perspective, my joy, and my sorrow. This is true of President Biden, as well, I am sure, just as it will be true of that Gold Star father who met Biden with his heavy and angry heart.
Shame on the New York Times and reporter Katie Rogers for exploiting parental grief, in all its many forms, to leverage and magnify our current political climate of deep and extreme division. I generally expect better from them than hit pieces you would more commonly find on FOX or in the pedantic op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. We should expect better than hot takes dripping with cynicism meant to slyly critique the grief of a bereaved parent, whomever that grieving parent may be.