Reprinted with permission from Press Run
At last Friday's White House press briefing, reporters assembled amidst a busy news day. A sweeping and historic Covid relief bill was about to be voted on in the U.S. Senate, a signature piece of legislation that Joe Biden has bet his presidency on.
Meanwhile, in the coming days, Biden was set to sign two executive orders to advance gender equity and opportunity for women, meet with the CEO of Johnson & Johnson to discuss the pandemic vaccination rollout, and deliver national remarks on the anniversary of the Covid-19 shutdown in the U.S.
The first question posed to White House press secretary Jen Psaki at Friday's briefing wasn't about any of those key topics, though. The day's first briefing query came from a reporter who asked when Biden was going to take more questions from reporters. "So we're 45 days into the Biden presidency, and he has yet to hold a presser," the journalist stressed. "Why the delay, and when can we expect the President to hold a press conference?"
Journalists and Republicans have teamed up in recent days to try to turn the topic of press conferences into a news story by demanding to know why Biden hasn't yet held a formal one. Seven weeks into his term, Biden became the first president in the past four decades who has gone this far without holding a formal Q&A session with the White House press corps.
The issue was so pressing that the Washington Post editorial page weighed in. The daily wanted to make sure the lack of press conferences didn't "become a habit," which is odd since Biden has only been in office for 50 days. The Associated Press basically claimed Biden is hiding because he's "a historically gaffe-prone politician."
Of course, unlike his predecessors, Biden arrived in office facing three unprecedented crises: an economic one, a national security one in the form of a deadly insurrection, and a public health one — and oh yeah, an impeachment trial. That might explain why he hasn't yet done a solo press conference.
The White House has pointed out that Biden regularly takes questions from the press during the week (nearly 40 times to date), and has given nine extended interviews. The White House has repeatedly said Biden will give a formal press conference this month. And he certainly should. It's important that the President of the United States address the nation in lots of different ways, and solo press conferences are certainly an important outlet for him to explain and defend his agenda.
But this media hand wringing seems a bit over the top. Is the press conference issue being raised because there's a larger sense that the Biden has curtailed media access or is trying to hide what his team is doing? No. Unlike the previous administration, which at one point unplugged daily media briefings for an entire year, the Biden White House hosts one nearly every day where journalists are able to pose questions and receive factual, professional answers from the White House press secretary.
There are no current scandals Biden is trying avoid. If anything, his press conference might end up resembling a victory lap as he rightly takes credit for the U.S.'s runaway vaccination rate, and the passage of a Covid relief bill which will help millions of families and businesses, as well as school districts across the country.
It seems more that the press wants Biden to appear in the specific forum of a solo news conference, which shines a spotlight on the White House press corps. Biden has already participated in a town hall event for CNN, answering voters' questions for more than an hour. But journalists don't think town halls really count, because they don't feature journalists. So there's a self-serving angle to the media's clamoring about a press conference, which journalists glorify as being the pinnacle of presidential communications.
"Press conferences are critical to informing the American people and holding an administration accountable to the public," said Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller, president of the White House Correspondents' Association.
The Washington Post in its editorial insisted that press conferences are where "reporters can ask follow-up questions" and "the president's thoughts on a wide range of issues can be mined." In four years of Trump press conferences, do you recall pointed, aggressive follow-up questions from reporters that helped mine Trump's deeper thoughts? I certainly don't. (I do recall that one press conference held at Trump's Bedminster, N.J., country club where local members were invited to boo reporters and cheer Trump's references to "fake news.") It's odd that the media let Trump lie his way through solo press events and now are demanding Biden hold one because that's where presidents are held accountable by the media.
Meanwhile, it's hard to miss how CNN, for instance, is pressing Biden to hold a formal Q&A in the name of access. Yet CNN pulled the plug on Biden White House daily press briefings just four weeks into the Democrat's term. This, after CNN feasted on Trump White House press briefings, airing them live and in their entirety, for four years. CNN clearly operated under different rules for Trump, and now it demands that Biden adhere to the press conference rules that the network prefers.
Biden will certainly hold a press conference soon and it will likely generate very little news, let alone blockbuster revelations. It also won't feature insults and concocted fabrications like his predecessor's did. The press should relax a bit on this issue. Biden has been quite busy to date.
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