Before Joe Biden was sworn in, voices across the TV spectrum could not possibly set the bar for his inaugural address any higher.
“Today,” Dana Perino said on Fox, “is going to be the most important speech of Joe Biden’s public service.”
Afterward, commentators said he cleared the bar with ease.
“Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace said Biden’s address was “part sermon, part pep talk,” and “the best inaugural address I have ever heard.”
Conservative commentator Karl Rove said on Fox that it was “a heartfelt appeal for unity” and “authentically Joe Biden.”
“It was not a partisan speech,” Abby Phillip said on CNN. “It was an invitation, not just to reach across the aisle, but to get back on track. It was an invitation to decency, to civility. It was about the core foundation of democracy and not so much about politics.”
On NBC, Andrea Mitchell called the speech and the overall ceremony “really important and optimistic, hopeful but confronting.”
Ed O’Keefe of CBS said Biden “may have put a title on what we’re going through” by talking about an “uncivil war” in the United States.
Biden told the nation that “the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you, or worship like you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do. We must end this uncivil war that pits red versus blue. Rural versus urban. Conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls, instead of harden our hearts.”
A visual difference
Washington sparkled in the live shots from dozens of cameras, in what is known as “pooled” coverage shared by all the major networks. Post-riot security measures and Covid-era health precautions made the inaugural news coverage even more of a feat than usual.
The contrast at the Capitol, between January 6 and January 20, was also a throughline of the morning’s special reports.
While CNN showed live pictures of the Capitol, Jake Tapper said, “Two weeks after that very same site was desecrated by a domestic terrorist mob trying to stop democracy in its tracks, the United States and, in fact, the world was treated to a beautiful demonstration of the steadfastness of that democracy.”
New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik pointed out that “the widespread and conspicuous mask-wearing” in the live shots immediately presented “a visual difference from the last administration’s events.”
It’s a “symbolic message for the country and the world: America has embraced reality and science,” CNN’s Bianna Golodryga commented on Twitter.
Brian Lowry writes: “There will be no arguments about crowd size for this inaugural, which reflects the savvy way this inaugural was produced as a made-for-TV event. Trump’s might have been billed as a ‘reality TV presidency,’ but Biden’s response to the pandemic has been evident in the way he campaigned and now the way he was inaugurated: Using the medium of TV as a means of shaping the message, in the same way that other live events, from sports to talk shows, have had to adapt to this new reality.”
Defeating the lies
“There is truth and there are lies — lies told for power and profit,” Biden said during his address.
“I think particularly for all of us as journalists, it was resonant to hear the president say, this is about defending the truth and defeating the lies,” Margaret Brennan said on CBS.
On ABC, Jon Karl also brought up Biden’s appeal to truth: “The line in Biden’s speech that stood out to me was when he said, ‘there is truth and there are lies’ … if he can convince Americans of that once again, he’ll go a long way to accomplishing what he needs to accomplish.”
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.