In a nearly 1,800-word piece posted Thursday afternoon at The New York Times website (but buried on A-16 of Saturday’s print edition), longtime White House reporter Michael Shear blasted the Biden administration for having “protect[ed]” the President through his first two years in office with only 54 interviews and the fewest press conferences in his first two years since Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (who, as Shear would only note until paragraph 29 that Reagan’s count was due to him being shot).
Shear’s piece was likely at least partially inspired what’s been the occasional missile at a White House press briefing over the last two-plus years and, in particular, the April 11 briefing when the press corps slammed ever-inept Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre over the regime saying there wouldn’t be a press conference during Biden’s trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The subhead said it all: “As President Biden prepares to announce his bid for a second term as soon as Tuesday, his decision to keep the news media at arm’s length is part of a deliberate strategy.” The print edition headline was muted: “Biden Is Historically Coy About Meeting the Press.”
Sure enough, the Ireland angle came up in the second sentence and a remark from Jean-Pierre three sentences later was from April 11.
Worse yet, Shear then noted the Colombian president visited Biden Thursday, “but the two did not hold a news conference together, another practice of his predecessors that Mr. Biden has frequently chosen to skip” even though, afterwards, “Mr. Petro took questions from reporters — alone — at microphones in front of the West Wing.”
The raw numbers said it all: “[T]he president has granted the fewest interviews since Mr. Reagan was president: only 54. (Donald J. Trump gave 202 during the first two years of his presidency; Barack Obama gave 275.)”
Later in the piece, he shared the totals going back to Reagan: “Mr. Bush gave 89, Mr. Clinton gave 132, George H.W. Bush gave 96, and Mr. Reagan gave 106 — all during the first two years of their presidencies.”
The press conference data (via the University of California at Santa Barbara) wasn’t an better with Biden’s average of “10 news conferences per year during his first two years in office” compared to 19.5 for Trump, Obama at 23, and Clinton with 41.5. None of them stood close to the tallies for Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge with 82 and 90, respectively. So much for restoring normalcy to the presidency.
He would also bury the administration for “accelerating the demise of traditions that have underpinned the relationship with the news media” by “keeping” them “at arm’s length,” but as he did throughout the piece, he had to pause this brutal takedown to dole out a throwaway line about Trump or defense of Biden for his liberal readers (click “expand”):
More than any president in recent memory, Mr. Biden, 80, has taken steps to reduce opportunities for journalists to question him in forums where he can offer unscripted answers and they can follow up. The result, critics say, is a president who has fewer moments of public accountability for his comments, decisions and actions.
Mr. Biden has not accused the news media of being “the enemy of the people,” as his predecessor did during four years in which news organizations documented thousands of lies by Mr. Trump.
But as Mr. Biden prepares to announce his bid for a second term as soon as Tuesday, he is accelerating the demise of traditions that have underpinned the relationship with the news media for decades. The president’s strategy of keeping the press at arm’s length is a bet that he can sidestep those traditions in a new media environment. And it is public evidence that Mr. Biden’s political strategists want to protect him from the unscripted exchanges that have often resulted in missteps and criticism.
White House officials do not dispute their different approach. They say it is part of a deliberate strategy to go around the traditional news media to connect with audiences “where they are,” without being subjected to the filter of political or investigative journalists.
In turn, Shear fretted, the interviews Biden has done were replaced by “low-risk conversations with celebrities or supportive internet influencers as a regular means of generating publicity,” such as “separate, lengthy interviews with the actors Jason Bateman and Drew Barrymore, the weatherman Al Roker, and Manny MUA, a beauty blogger on YouTube.”
Shear used one of his cushions to quote from Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry who, like he did for his boss, laid across the railroad tracks for the White House.
After McCurry’s defense centering around “all presidents chaf[fing] at people questioning” them and the splintering of the media ecosystem meaning legacy media has less reach, Shear cited the White House’s defense of the fact that they “restored the tradition of a daily White House briefing.”
Shear quickly returned to the beatdown, this time addressing the White House claim that Biden’s hundreds of “informal and informative Q. and A. interactions” were enough (click “expand”):
One official noted that during the president’s four-day Ireland trip, he responded to 40 questions from reporters in five different exchanges, including a brief tarmac session early in morning after Air Force One landed near Washington.
“President Biden has held nearly 400 question-and-answer sessions with reporters since he took office,” Mr. LaBolt said. That is more than Mr. Trump, Mr. Obama or George W. Bush did during similar periods in their presidencies, Mr. LaBolt noted.
But those interactions between Mr. Biden and reporters are usually very brief, with shouted questions that the president often chooses not to answer. When he does, it is sometimes with a clipped, one- or two-word response.
The White House transcript of the exchange after Air Force One returned from Ireland shows that Mr. Biden offered short answers to questions about the likelihood of Irish unification, the debt ceiling and the Supreme Court’s upcoming abortion decision. He started talking with reporters at 2:43 a.m. and concluded at 2:45 a.m.
Other sessions are similar.
When Mr. Biden returned to the White House on Jan. 2 from his vacation in the Virgin Islands, he stopped to talk to reporters at 4:35 p.m. after walking off Marine One. He answered a question about his relationship to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and said “no” when asked whether the United States was discussing joint nuclear exercises with South Korea at the time. The exchange ended exactly one minute later, at 4:36 p.m., according to the White House transcript.
In September 2022, Mr. Biden stopped briefly to talk to reporters but said “no” when asked to comment on negotiations over a railroad strike. He answered a question on Ukraine and two questions on inflation. The exchange lasted two minutes.
The next interlude included this comical take:
The length of an interview or a news conference is not always everything. Mr. Trump was famous for dispensing falsehoods and misinformation during lengthy Q. and A. sessions. During the coronavirus pandemic, he once used a news conference to suggest that people inject bleach into their bodies.
He wrapped with comments from White House colleague Tamara Keith of NPR (who sits two seats down form him), but not before a lament that Biden hasn’t “done a single interview with reporters from a major newspaper,” including The New York Times.
There was this Captain Obvious take: “News conferences and interviews always carry risks for politicians, who can perform badly or make gaffes.”
No kidding, Mike.