FLASHBACK: Media Seethed Over the 2020 ‘Sh*tshow’ Debate

Barring any last minute surprises, CNN on Thursday will host Democratic President Joe Biden and former Republican President Donald Trump in their first debate of the 2024 general election. Four years ago, when the same candidates met in the kickoff debate of the 2020 cycle, the liberal broadcast and cable networks crudely blasted Trump’s performance and crowned Biden the “winner” of “the worst debate in modern history.”

In fact, this year’s debate moderators, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, were among the most strident voices castigating Trump for his aggressive posture in that September 29, 2020 debate. “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” Tapper seethed. “That was the worst debate I have ever seen. In fact, it wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace. And it’s primarily because of President Trump,” he fumed.

“I’m just going to say it like it is: That was a shitshow!” Bash exclaimed, quickly adding: “Apologies for being maybe a little bit crude.”

While they bashed Trump, the talking heads praised Democratic nominee Joe Biden. “I actually think there was a winner tonight, and that winner was Joe Biden,” ABC’s Matthew Dowd announced during his network’s post-debate coverage.

“I thought when he [Biden] talked into the camera, he was very effective. He did try to keep things on track. He did try to say exactly what he wanted to say, and I thought he made a connection with the American people,” Gayle King agreed during CBS’s live coverage.

ABC’s Mary Bruce concurred: “Biden’s campaign is feeling very good right now,” she relayed. “Over and over again, he simply refused to give credence to the President’s attacks.”

Joe Biden clearly showed up today,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer exulted. “He went head-to-head with the President of the United States, who was often put on the defensive, interrupting the Vice President repeatedly….The former Vice President, clearly, showed up.”

But journalists saved their hottest takes for President Trump. Anchoring NBC’s live coverage after the debate, NBC’s Lester Holt declared the event “could have been a low point in American discourse.” Colleague Savannah Guthrie called it “undignified” and “cringeworthy,” while Andrea Mitchell blasted it as a “disgrace.”

“It was a train wreck, but it was a train wreck of — the making of one person,” Chuck Todd railed. “We know who did it. President Trump did this….It was a pure train wreck.”

“Trump came across like a bully. There was an avalanche of untruth statements that came out,” scolded ABC’s Jon Karl. “That was the worst presidential debate I have ever seen in my life,” anchor George Stephanopoulos complained.

What a dark event we have just witnessed,” fretted MSNBC’s Brian Williams. His co-anchor Rachel Maddow blasted Trump for what she labeled his “monstrous, just cavalcade of increasingly wild and obscene lies.”

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace fumed that by interrupting Biden so often, Trump was guilty of urinating on democracy. “Joe Biden has to go [to the next debate],” Wallace fulminated, “because you don’t stand up to a bully who is trying to do whatever he’s doing, lift his leg and pee on our democracy, by not showing up and standing up to the bully.”

On CNN, co-anchor Anderson Cooper was nasty: “I don’t think we’ve ever have seen a President of the United States completely lacking in shame. I mean, just shameless and obesely immoral. I mean, there’s not a moral fiber in this man….You cannot have watched that debate, I would think, and be proud of our President.”

After former GOP Senator Rick Santorum explained out that Trump “feels like he has been mistreated and by the prior administration – ” Cooper snarked: “Yeah, all the narcissists and all psychopaths feel that but it does not make it true.”

The media rampage continued the next morning. The Today show’s headline screamed: “Amazing Disgrace.” “This really was a debacle,” NBC’s Peter Alexander editorialized in what was supposed to be a straight news report on the September 30 program.

On Good Morning America, co-host Stephanopoulos supplied his personal views: “It was an absolute disgrace. It was a mockery of a presidential debate, an insult to our democracy.” Correspondent Mary Bruce readily agreed: “This was a disaster. It is already being called the worst debate in modern history. Any substance was completely overshadowed by the President’s interrupting and the constant squabbling.”

On Morning Joe, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski made sure to prop up the Democratic nominee: “Joe Biden’s getting great reviews. He did a great job last night. He handled it really well,” she gushed, before unloading on Trump: “It was a firebombing of our democracy. Bob Woodward said the President is assassinating the presidency. Well, the President firebombed the debate process….It was 90 minutes of, quite frankly, a disgrace for our country.”

“Donald Trump set himself on fire in front of 100 million people last night during that debate,” her co-host Joe Scarborough hyperbolically proclaimed.

CNN New Day anchor John Berman took the foul commentary to a new low: “One person drove this event into the gutter, and that was the President. If it was a train wreck, it was the President who crashed the train. If it was an S-show — as our friend Dana Bash said — it was the President who took the dump.”

Earlier on the same show, former Clinton strategist Paul Begala observed: “It was the loudest, rudest, worst television I’ve ever seen, and I hosted Crossfire for three years….It’s just the most appalling thing I’ve ever seen.”

It’s now four years later and CNN is running the presidential debate. Maybe it will be a high-minded discussion that will enlighten and uplift the country.

If not, you can bet journalists will be quick to blame Donald Trump, not Joe Biden. Or themselves.

You can read more examples from our flashback series, the NewsBusters Time Machine, here.

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