Biden Meets the Press

For weeks the right-wing bobble heads on cable complained that President Joe Biden had not yet held a news conference. As if he didn’t have a few other things on his plate as he worked to clean up the mess his predecessor had left behind. This week he did face the press in a formal setting and, of course, the bobble heads complained about his performance.

I’m old enough to remember when reporters asked presidents questions and filed stories based on the answers they received. Today reporters ask questions and the stories are made up of the opinions of people I have never heard of speaking with great authority about things which have nothing to do with the answers.

Over on Fox, where the ratings have been slipping ever since their champion Donald Trump slithered out of Washington, pundits complained that Biden:

  • Paused to think before he answered.
  • Consulted his notes before reeling off a series of statistics or a position which had clear foreign policy implications.
  • Used a list to select which reporters to call on and did not call on Peter Doocey, the Fox reporter in the room.

Give me a break.

The bobble heads at Fox may think the president is in office for their convenience. I do not. And I for one am much more interested in what Joe Biden does than in how he answers reporter’s questions.

I do recognize that public perception is important and, for good or bad, the unelected, unqualified, and unfair cable personalities have an impact on that perception far beyond their worth. In spite of the Fox complaints, I am glad Biden pauses to put his thoughts in order before launching into his answer. To paraphrase what a wise person once said, he engages his mind before putting his mouth in gear. In addition, we all know Biden has overcome a stammer. About three million Americans share that problem. Speaking slowly and deliberately is a key part of the solution.

Where his predecessor was quick to answer but rarely presented information that was anywhere near the truth, I am glad Biden refers to his notes to make sure the statistics he reads are accurate. And I am likewise happy to see that he states positions on public and foreign policy that have been vetted, discussed, and agreed to within the White House. It gives me assurance that the administration is working together and carefully creating and voicing consistent strategies. Under Trump all we had was a volatile chief executive making policy up on the fly.

As far as not calling on the Fox reporter is concerned. If you want to be taken seriously you should act the part. Fox does not. By the way, after criticizing Biden for using notes, Fox observed that Doocey had written down in a binder a list of questions he was ready to ask if called upon.

I am, all that said, disappointed about this first Biden news conference. Disappointed not in the president but in the news reporters. The most important issue on our minds at the moment is the pandemic. It was the subject of Biden’s opening remarks. But through dozens of questions asked by ten different reporters, not a single question dealt with the virus, the vaccination program, or the rush by many states to relax mask and other containment requirements. In a tweet, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times said the questions “suggest that coronavirus is no longer Topic A.” The polls show she’s wrong. The polls say the virus is still “Topic A” with the people. It is the reporters who are out of touch.

So what did make it on the reporter’s list of questions during the debate? There were three questions on the senate’s filibuster rule. And four questions about immigration policy. Both issues are contentious and certain to present conflict when the reporters seek out Republican reaction. The immigration situation on the southern border is being pushed hard by Fox and Republican politicians. It is not at the top of most American’s list of concerns.

It should not surprise any of us to see the reporters focus on the most controversial topics. It makes for more drama. And the reporters are starved for drama. While Trump could be counted on to insult and argue with reporters during every meeting, Biden somehow managed to get through a one hour news conference without any. The reporters must have been disappointed.

It would have been nice to hear more about the economy. The impact of the pandemic on the economy of America and the world is far from over and is still being assessed. The latest Covid relief bill makes a significant investment in the lower and middle classes. But it is the long term infrastructure bill which faces an uphill battle in the Senate which would have the greatest impact, reversing a trend in American economic policy which has seen the shrinking of the middle class over the decade since Ronald Reagan was in office. How about a question on that?

The stupid question of the night goes to CBS’s Nancy Cordes. “Yes,” Biden, who has been in office for just over 60 days, told her, he does plan to seek reelection in 2024. And he expects Vice-President Kamala Harris to be his running mate.

Glad we got that settled.

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