It was 27 days for President Donald Trump and only 20 for his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
But 36 days after he was inaugurated, President Biden has yet to appear before journalists for a solo press conference.
The delay has irritated members of the White House press corps, from CNN to Fox News, and raised questions about Biden’s campaign promise to restore respect for the press after four years of Trump’s “fake news” attacks.
“He talks about the role of journalists as being a critical one, and yet, access to a president is really the barometer by which we judge the importance that a president assigns to the media,” said Brett Bruen, White House director of global engagement under Obama
“The risk that the Biden folks run is they tend to be very tightly in control of the conditions in which they put the president out, and that may work for a while, but I believe it is counterproductive to the kind of connection that both the White House needs with journalists as well as the president needs with the people,” he added.
Biden has taken occasional questions from journalists during his appearances in front of the cameras delivering statements on COVID-19 or the economy. He has responded to reporters on his way to board Marine One before departing from or returning to the White House.
But he has yet to conduct a solo press conference since taking office last month.
So while Obama gave his first press conference on Feb. 9, 2009, and Trump appeared in the East Room of the White House for 77 freewheeling minutes on Feb.16, 2017, the nation has not yet seen Biden go head-to-head with a room full of journalists.
The result is conservative media dusting off their “hiding Joe” headlines from the campaign, when Biden ran a low-key strategy that allowed Trump to hog coverage.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked when that might change during one of her regular briefings this week.
“He will hold a solo press conference, but I don’t have a date for you at this point in time,” she said.
During the campaign, Biden promised to reverse the damage done by Trump’s frequent attacks on journalists.
“As president, I will restore a relationship with the independent press that is grounded in mutual respect, even, and especially when, they critique policies or positions of my administration,” he said.
His administration has restored the role of daily briefings. And last week, Biden fielded more than an hour of questions during a CNN town hall.
But journalists point out that briefings by staff are not the same as the chance to quiz the president directly.
“Because we learn more when we hear the president answer questions directly,” Kathryn Watson of CBS News wrote on Twitter. “The CNN town hall was helpful — Biden said more than his people usually say.
“I’ll always maintain that presidents should answer questions from the press, whether that president is Republican or Democrat.”
Both Obama and Trump had held solo press conferences by this point of their presidencies, @Kevinliptakcnn notes. The White House says Biden will hold one soon, but doesn’t say when. Not this week.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) February 22, 2021
The issue came up again this week ahead of his virtual meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In pre-COVID times, any such meeting would have been followed by a joint press conference, with two journalists from each nation getting the chance to pose questions. But there was no such facility under the new arrangements.
Allies say strict message management is commonplace in the early days of a presidency, particularly when coming to power in the middle of a crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Erick Sanchez, former spokesman for Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign, said Biden also had to deal with a difficult transition but was now laser-focused on his mission.
“The West Wing, as a result, will run more proactively and fit the narrative that the campaign set of seeking to ease the anxiety of the nation,” he said. “This won’t compromise transparency, but merely focus the president’s efforts to avoid distractions while he works quickly under extraordinary circumstances.”
This week his choreographed appearances included a moment of silence as the United States passed 500,000 coronavirus deaths and a ceremony to mark the 50 millionth vaccination.
But that might represent a missed opportunity, according to Bruen.
“While I fervently disagree with most things that Donald Trump said, his accessibility to journalists allowed him to develop a rapport and authenticity, at least in appearance, that was,” he said, “I think critical for his ability to break through to a significant portion of the American people.”
Author: Rob Crilly
Source: Washington Examiner: 36 days and counting: When will Biden hold first solo press conference?