Deep into a five-minute, detailed policy answer about immigration, President Joe Biden asked reporters at his first White House press conference if he was wading too deeply into the weeds. Biden wanted to know if he was giving too many details and providing too much factual information.
Talk about a seismic shift from the Trump years, when the entirety of policy discussion could be squeezed onto the back of a matchbook. Back then, reporters were also lied to nonstop at press conferences, and personally denigrated in front of the cameras. As Biden now constantly does, he flipped the script. Affable and at times folksy, Biden was his usual self, offering a common sense outlook to practical governance: “I can’t guarantee we’re going to solve everything, but I can guarantee we can make everything better. We can change the lives of so many people.”
Overall, Biden delivered a strong, one-hour performance during his inaugural press conference, which must have felt like a colossal letdown for the Beltway media. Journalists had spent weeks mindlessly hyping the idea that Biden was hiding from the press and its legions of truth-seekers. The unending desire by the media to turn Biden’s press conference into two-week, navel-gazing “news” story was something to behold.
“Stumbling or steady?” asked a Washington Post reporter, hours before the press conference. “Finally,” harrumphed Politico.
Did the Beltway press really think Biden, who’s been in public life nearly 50 years, who just tallied more votes than any presidential candidate in American history, and who clearly won both televised face-offs with Trump last year, can’t effectively communicate his agenda and answer broad questions from reporters?
Just last week, Biden gave an extended, sit-down interview with ABC News, and he’s already participated in a CNN town hall. Yet the media’s myopic obsession with press conferences continued, as they worked overtime with Republicans to create a nasty Biden narrative. In the end, he emerged as the clear winner.
The strangest part of the press conference? Biden wasn’t asked a single question about Covid, which has dominated every waking day of American life for the last 13 months, and has claimed more than half-a-million lives. Biden was asked twice if he planned on running for re-election in 2024, and he was peppered with questions about the border, a story Republicans have been pounding for weeks as a “crisis” for the administration. On that issue, the White House press corps was in step with the GOP and tacitly framed their multiple border questions around Republican talking points.
The media however, showed no interest in the topic of Covid, just as the GOP today shows no interest in the topic of Covid, as Biden posts success after success on that front. In fact, the presser functioned as a Biden victory lap when he announced at the opening of the Q&A that his new goal was to have 200 million Americans receive a vaccine shot within the first 100 days of his presidency. That would be an unthinkable accomplishment compared to the national embarrassment the vaccine rollout had been under Trump.
But the White House press corps looked away. That’s because the incessant press chatter over Biden’s missing press conference in recent weeks wasn’t about a larger story regarding the Biden White House trying to choke off access to reporters, operating in the dark, or waging war on the Fourth Estate. (That would be bad!) In fact, it’s been the opposite, with the Biden team hosting a press briefing nearly every day where journalists are able to pose questions and receive factual, professional answers from the press secretary.
The media caterwauling was all about how Biden hadn’t yet appeared in a very specific communications forum to answer questions for an hour. The issue was so pressing that the Washington Post editorial page weighed in. (The paper posted five pieces on the topic in the span of two weeks.)
Here’s the reality: Trump made news popular for four years, giving outlets across the country sizeable bumps in readership and viewership as Trump remained committed to creating news all day, every day with his cascade of lies, taunts, and erratic behavior. And Beltway journalists loved it — they loved being in the middle of the tumult and being the creators of the roiling content.
That’s all gone now with Biden, who has made a conscious decision to avoid the spotlight and to not needlessly interject himself into every news cycle the way narcissist Trump did. By turning the temperature way down, by refusing to manufacture news where none exists in the name of partisan warfare and general chaos, Biden is denying journalists their professional momentum.
Add to that the fact that Biden slow-walked his way to his first press conference, as compared to his predecessors who held them sooner, and that D.C. journalists hold up pressers as the pinnacle form of presidential communication, and journalists get cranky. They want White House performances. That’s why they tried to turn Biden’s lack of a press conference into a national news story, when it’s really just inside baseball chatter. Searching for a path forward in the post-Trump world, the Beltway press is frantically trying to generate controversy where none exists.
Biden’s modest, winning press conference confirmed all that.
This essay first appeared at Press Run and is republished with permission.