President Biden, press conferences, and the media

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on March 15, 2021

We've passed the 50 day mark of the Biden presidency ("America Held Hostage") and the new president has yet to hold a press conference. His past 15 predecessors all held at least one in their first 33 days in office.

There's a lot of speculation on the political right about why Biden is sticking to more formal announcements, brief Q&A sessions where answers are no more than a sentence or two, and depending on his communications shop for much of his messaging.

If you're interested on statistics on presidential press conferences, The American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara is an excellent resource, with data going back to Calvin Coolidge's presidency. (Despite what the impressions you might get from the media, I was surprised to see that President Trump averaged more press conferences than Barack Obama.)

Local radio talk show host Dave Congalton has asked me to come on his show at 6:05 p.m. this evening to talk about it, despite having never participated in one. (You can listen to the show by going here and clicking the big "Listen Live" link at the top of the page. Once the audio is available, I'll attach it to the bottom of this post and on the Radio Appearances page.)

Biden presidency a continuation of the Biden campaign

Joe Biden ran for the presidency based largely on a return to normalcy. He was basically little more than "not Donald Trump," and generic Democrat. Though he laid out a lot of policy positions on his campaign website that would, in their practical application, be controversial or deeply unpopular if widely known, the press wasn't interested in subjecting these questions to scrutiny or public feedback.

For example, would Biden have been able to eek out wins in Georgia and Arizona had those voters known that Biden planned to force them to undergo an extensive background check and pay a $200 tax for every 10+ round magazine they already own?

What about the on-again now off-again approval of the KeystoneXL pipeline and the thousands of jobs disappeared with the stroke of the president's pen that it entailed?

A more capable politician than Donald Trump could've rather easily put pressure on the press to force some moderation or pay the political consequences, but his ego wouldn't allow him to frame the choice voters had in that manner.

So, Biden was largely able to skate through the general election in the public's eye as little more than "generic Democrat." His choice of Kamala Harris for his VP slot should've raised some eyebrows as the California senator sat on the extreme left of the Democratic Party nationally and was so cringingly unpopular that her own presidential campaign didn't even make it to the first primary contest.

The pandemic also benefited Biden when it came to reasonable questions about his health and vitality. At 78 years old, Biden is older entering office than President Ronald Reagan was leaving office.

Throughout his general election campaign, Biden would often cease campaigning in the early afternoon or late morning. It's certain that part of this was simply the recognition that Trump was his own worst enemy and you don't make a point of stepping in when your opponent is busy self-destructing.

But now that Biden is in the White House, the secrecy surrounding exactly how Biden spends his time is becoming an issue for the press.

But five weeks into office, Biden has fallen short of his former boss, Barack Obama, in several areas, and is under pressure to do more to restore confidence in the federal government following Trump’s chaotic term in the White House.

Among the critiques: The schedules for the president and vice president aren’t posted online. The White House comment line is shut down. There are no citizen petitions on the White House’s website.

The White House has committed to releasing visitor logs. But it doesn’t plan to divulge the names of attendees of virtual meetings, which are the primary mode of interaction until the coronavirus pandemic eases.

And while Biden has received kudos for keeping the American public informed, primarily by resuming the daily White House press briefings, he has yet to hold a news conference of his own.

The press is getting antsy, and they're right to be.

The other half: The press at press conferences

As interesting it will be to see and hear President Biden hold forth four an hour or so taking a variety of questions from the press, as a former journalist I'm quite a bit more interested in what questions are asked and who is chosen to ask questions.

One hopes that you don't get the cringeworthy questions made famous during Barack Obama's Presidency by The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny.

During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?

These are questions more suited to late night talk shows or the like, not serious issues of public policy.

During the Obama presidency, too much of the press corps was interested in making sure that the nation's first black president succeeded, rather than holding the powerful to account. It was this sort of behavior that allowed the political left to (falsely) claim that Obama's administration was scandal-free.

This obsequiousness obviously didn't extend to the Trump administration as numerous journalists achieved notoriety by asking questions in a deliberately contentious manner and then feigning victimhood when called out.

I'd love for a return to a normal relationship between the White House press corps and the presidents they cover. Something that was last seen during the Bush 43 administration and a long line of presidents before him.  Respectful, but with tough questions.

Biden's knee-jerk reaction that anything Trump did was malicious and stupid has led him into creating a new border crisis. That's one subject that he should expect tough questioning on at his first press conference, but tough questioning is something he's got a history of responding poorly to.

A "return to normalcy" includes Biden answering the press' questions and the press behaving like responsible adults. We've got to have both.


[custom-twitter-feeds headertext="Hoystory On Twitter"]


March 2021



pencil linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram