Historian Jon Meacham helped write Biden’s acceptance speech and then commented on it on MSNBC

Back in April 2019 I asked, “Is Joe Biden the Jon Meacham candidate?” The Biden campaign’s appeal to the “Soul of America” came from Meacham’s book The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.

Today The New York Times reports that Meacham has been writing speeches for Biden and worked on the victory speech the president-elect delivered on Saturday night in Wilmington.

The piece notes that MSNBC dumped Meacham as a paid contributor after the historian commented on the Biden speech without disclosing his role in its creation.

Here is a taste of Annie Karni and John Koblin’s piece:

Mr. Biden’s speech-writing process is run by Mike Donilon, the president-elect’s longtime adviser. But behind the scenes, Mr. Meacham has been playing a larger role than was previously known, both writing drafts of speeches and offering edits on many of Mr. Biden’s big addresses, including one he gave at Gettysburg last month and his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in August.

TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, downplayed Mr. Meacham’s role. “President-elect Joe Biden wrote the speech he delivered to the American people on Saturday night, which laid out his vision for uniting and healing the nation,” Mr. Ducklo said. “Given the significance of the speech, he consulted a number of important, and diverse, voices as part of his writing process, as he often does.”

A Biden official added that Mr. Meacham was involved in discussions about the themes in the victory speech.

Mr. Meacham, who has voted for presidents in both parties, played an unusual role during the campaign. He publicly endorsed Mr. Biden in an op-ed and received a prime speaking slot at the D.N.C. this year.

“To record history doesn’t mean you are removed from it,” Mr. Meacham said over the summer, noting he had been friends with Mr. Biden for a long time.

Mr. Meacham is currently not expected to join the administration. But his role helping to craft Mr. Biden’s biggest addresses has shades of the presidential historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s relationship with President John F. Kennedy. Mr. Schlesinger worked for Mr. Kennedy’s campaign and as a member of his White House staff.

Mr. Meacham declined to comment on his role.

Read the entire piece here.

David French Elaborates on Evangelical Fear


Believe Me 3dWe covered this last week after several folks e-mailed me to ask if I sent David French a copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Read that post here.

David French and Jon Meacham were on “Morning Joe” this morning:

In this interview, French does say that this fear has been present before 2016.  (I challenged him to think historically in the post to which I linked above).

Both evangelical “fear” and the evangelical pursuit of “power” are mentioned in this interview.  Of course these are the main themes of Believe Me.

How Major Media Outlets Covered Billy Graham’s Death

Duisburg, Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham

Via Wikipedia commons

I haven’t watched much television today, but I have noticed that every time I tuned into CNN on my computer I found very little coverage about the death of Billy Graham, arguably the most famous person in the 20th-century world.  Granted, there are issues related to guns and school shootings in Florida and beyond.  I thus fully understand why Graham took a back seat on my preferred cable news station.

So I decided to cruise around the Internet a bit.  On CNN’s website, I needed to scroll down a bit before I found a link to Graham’s death.  The same was true for MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post.

Graham’s death is front and center at the websites of the BBC, The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal.  On the BBC site I was able to click on links to two articles on Graham without having to scroll down.

Eugene Robinson’s African-American History Collection

Eugene_Robinson_by_Gage_SkidmoreYou read him in The Washington Post and see him on MSNBC, but did you know journalist Eugene Robinson and his wife, artists Avis Collins Robinson, have an amazing collection of African-American artifacts.

Read about it here.

Although it’s hard to have “favorites” among artifacts that represent a tragic history, Robinson said one that always sticks out in his mind is a document for the sale of a young girl. “Repellant objects are important. They’re a reminder of where we were, of our recent past, where we must never go again,” he said. “These are people’s lives. That brings it home to me. We talk about slavery as a historical fact, but we have to think about the individual.” But the larger picture is equally important. “The class of objects points out the extent to which slavery provided a foundation for the US. It wasn’t just a Southern phenomenon. The textile mills in Massachusetts, for example, where did that cotton come from? The South.”

Read the entire piece at Hyperallergic


Why MSNBC Has the Best Coverage of the Pope’s Visit

Chris Matthews: Philly Catholic

If you are a thinking person interested in Catholic history, Philadelphia history, religion and politics, or American religious history generally you need to be watching the MSNBC’s coverage of the visit of Pope Francis.  It is both entertaining and informative, but most importantly it has some intellectual teeth to it.

Unfortunately, MSNBC’s coverage of the Pope ended today at 3:00pm so the station can cover the Global Citizen Festival in New York City. Does MSNBC really think that Beyonce, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, and Ed Sheeran will get better ratings than Papa Francisco?

I have been watching a lot of Pope coverage this week and I have not yet seen anything better than MSNBC’s 9am to 1pm coverage of the Pope’s arrival in Philadelphia and the mass he conducted this morning at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and Paul.  (Although Brian Williams has also been excellent–it is good to have him back).

Chris Matthews, who anchored the coverage, seemed like he was on a caffeine rush all morning (even more than usual).  A native of Philadelphia and a product of the city’s Catholic culture, Matthews could not have been happier covering this event.  He told family stories, discussed Catholic history in the city, and asked his guests and on-set experts some very thoughtful questions.  Some of it was nostalgia for a Catholic Philadelphia that no longer exists, but I can’t think of a better person to lead us through this major event.


Matthews still needs to learn not to cut people off in mid-sentence, but the stuff he wanted to talk about was important.  Over the course of his four hours on the air Matthews led discussions about same-sex marriage and Catholic social teaching, the history of anti-Catholicism in the city, religious freedom and William Penn, and Catholic education.  He moved freely from expert to expert, soliciting comments and insights and peppering the conversation with his own knowledge of Catholicism. Matthews is a devout Catholic, an amateur historian, and one of America’s great political junkies.

This morning Matthews was joined by Kathy Sprows Cummings, the Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame and the woman I have dubbed the “Doris Kearns Goodwin of U.S. Catholic history.”  Sprows Cummings has been doing a great job all week, but she really came to life when teamed-up with Matthews. She is a product of the Philadelphia Catholic school system and can talk Philly Catholicism with the best of them.  My favorite moment was when Sprows Cummings mentioned that she, like Matthews, also attended a

Jesuit college (Matthews went to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts).  “You went to a Jesuit school? Really? Which one?” Matthews asked (I am paraphrasing).  “University of Scranton,” Sprows Cummings replied.  Matthews was thrilled and it seemed like a moment of Catholic bonding between the two of them.

Sprows Cummings is a historian of gender and American Catholic women religious.  Her passion for the place of women in the church was evident when she talked about Katherine Drexel, perhaps Philadelphia’s most celebrated American Catholic. (She suggested putting Saint Katherine on the ten dollar bill!).  Sprows Cummings was the perfect counterpoint to Matthew’s hyper-Catholic masculinity.

Finally, the MSNBC coverage included Catholic writer, pundit, and theologian George Weigel, The progressive-minded MSNBC deserves kudos for keeping Weigel on board (he has worked with NBC’s Catholic coverage for several years) since he represents a very conservative–theological, political, and economic–wing of the Catholic Church in the United States.  My favorite moment was when Weigel urged Catholics to respond to the Pope’s visit by praying ten minutes a day, reading the Bible daily, and visiting church on Sunday and during the week.  Matthews responded by saying that he wholeheartedly agreed with Weigel, although he did not want to go into the details about his spiritual life on the air.  Sprows Cummings chimed in with her own love of Jesuit spiritual practices. It was clear that they were all observer-participants this week.

Matthews, Sprows Cummings, and Weigel were supplemented by several other very thoughtful experts, including Los Angeles bishop Robert BarronMathew Schmalz, a theologian at the College of the Holy Cross, and LaSalle University president Colleen Hanycz.

I gave up on MSNBC several years ago when all the hosts started singing one politically-charged tune. MSNBC’s papal coverage has brought me back–at least for now.