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For President Biden, Thursday is question time.
The president will be grilled by the press for the first time since he took office in January. The session will generate heat and light and hopefully lots of news — but let’s acknowledge one thing right at the start. The average beat reporter cares a lot more about Biden’s answers and deflections than the average viewer or reader.
In the case of Biden, I was one of the first to start asking when he would hold a presser, but I recognize that my family members care a lot more about stimulus checks than presidential press conferences. I’d venture to say that most Americans don’t even know about the presser fracas.
But: This is a column about the media. We care about Biden’s availability. And we care about caring! Pressers are important symbols of transparency and accountability. They are also practical forums to get questions addressed. And reporter notebooks are overflowing with Q’s for the president. So here are a wide range of columns, commentaries and curtain-raiser pieces…
Biden’s “speak softly” strategy
“Limiting his exposure to the press and, by extension, the public isn’t simply a defensive ploy” by the Biden WH “to avoid an embarrassing gaffe,” Peter Nicholas wrote for The Atlantic. “It’s a conscious calculation that people don’t need — or want — to hear from the president on an hour-by-hour basis.”
That’s an obvious contrast to President Trump, and an important one. Nicholas asked Bill Frischling, the founder of Factba.se, to crunch the #’s, and found that “as of last week, Biden had publicly spoken about 116,000 words and spent 12 hours on camera as president,” while at this same point in 2017 “Trump had spoken nearly three times as many words and been on camera nearly three times as much.”
On a related note, this description by Ezra Klein has stuck with me all month long: “Speak softly and pass a big agenda.”
How he’s preparing
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins spoke with multiple sources who conveyed that Biden “has been getting ready for days,” and furthermore that he “recognizes the bright spotlight it will garner. Biden has talked his strategy through with several members of his inner circle and even held an informal practice session earlier this week.”
The presser, slated for 1:15pm ET, is a big deal in part because it will be Biden’s “most extended period of questioning since becoming president” and because the WH waited so long to do it, which spurred weeks of critical coverage from pro-Trump outlets. WaPo’s team noted that the busy news cycle — from the border to Boulder — also means that the presser has “taken on outsize import…”
Views from the left
Many liberal activists are frustrated by mainstream coverage of the Biden WH, and are becoming increasingly vocal. They are joined by some Never Trump Republicans like Jennifer Rubin, who knocked the WH press corps while referencing the upcoming presser, saying “given their conduct in the briefing room, I expect the worst.”
Former Clinton WH press secretary Joe Lockhart wrote in a CNN.com opinion piece that Thursday is also a “test for the media” because “Biden is no Trump,” meaning, not a congenital liar and bully. “The rules that evolved around Trump should not be applied to Biden,” Lockhart argued. “Some in the White House press corps have figured that out. Some have not. The press conference will be a national event on how the press treats the new President. Distrust of the media is very high in our country and an overly aggressive or obnoxious press corps may do more to damage journalism than the President.”
Views from the right
“The delay in convening President Biden’s maiden solo press conference may have had the unintended consequence of raising the bar for his performance,” Naomi Lim wrote for the Washington Examiner. To that point, Fox News has been hyping this event for weeks. Former Fox host Bill O’Reilly, summing up the resentful right-wing POV, tweeted that “the White House press corps wanted to harm Donald Trump” but “it will be 180 degrees opposite tomorrow.” And Trump adviser Jason Miller reacted to this NY Post headline, “No date set yet on Biden addressing joint session of Congress,” by saying “they have to make sure he can get through a simple press conference first.”
Coverage notes and quotes
— CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf and colleagues compiled 30 questions for Biden…
— The presser will be live everywhere you expect, from CNN to the broadcast networks. Lester Holt will anchor the coverage on NBC; Major Garrett on CBS; and David Muir on ABC.
— Fox News will also air it live, but I’m curious to see what other right-wing channels do, and what kind of commentary they surround the presser with…
— The AP’s Calvin Woodward filed a revealing look back in time at the import of POTUS pressers…
— Jack Shafer said the WH avoided holding a presser because “the president knows the public doesn’t care one way or the other…”
— Clinton WH press secretary Mike McCurry was spot on in this interview with The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove: “The utility of the press conference is that it actually enforces better government…”
— WaPo media columnist Margaret Sullivan said the presser is a “vital form of accountability,” but given Trump’s misconduct, it shouldn’t turn into a “performative exercise in equating two administrations, just to show how tough we are…”
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