The Problem With Press Conferences

For several weeks I have seen op eds pop up in several media complaining that President Biden hadn’t yet had a press  conference. Most presidents have had one or two press conferences by this point in their first terms, the op eds say. Why not Biden?

So now President Biden has had a press conference. I didn’t see it, but opinions of how well he did depends a lot on the political biases of the observer. The views of Washington Post columnists so far have been favorable; Washington Examiner writers are still spitting out bullet points of objections to everything President Biden said.

What I’m mostly seeing, though, is an indictment of the Washington Press Corps. It appears they asked a lot of stupid questions.

For example, Anita Kumar writes for Politico that none of the reporters asked questions about the pandemic, the signature issue of the moment. Mostly they asked questions they should already have known the answer to, such as where Biden stood on the filibuster or the so-called border crisis.

“It’s the same persistent disconnect we saw between Twitter and newsrooms on the one hand and voters on the other,” said a former Biden campaign aide. “The questions are too often motivated by what personally entertains cable news panelists—like trying to predict the outcome of the 2024 GOP primary. When superficiality crowds out the top issue to the American people… that’s a real failure.”

In other words, they aren’t asking questions about things most Americans want to know. They’re asking questions to provoke a “gotcha” they can put on a cable news chryon.

Jackie Kucinich, Daily Beast:

He was asked several times about the conditions undocumented children face in U.S. facilities after they cross the border. One pointed question asked Biden if he thought the conditions were “acceptable.”

“That’s a serious question, right? Is that acceptable to me? Come on,” Biden said, showing frustration. “That’s why we’re going to be moving 1,000 of those kids out quickly. That’s why I got Fort Bliss opened up. That’s why I’ve been working from the moment this started to happen to try to find additional access for children to be able to safely—not just children, but particularly children to be able to safely be housed, while we follow through on the rest of what’s happening.”

As he finished his answer, he summed up conditions as “totally unacceptable.”

At Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilly slams CNN’s Kaitlan Collins for wasting time with this line of questions:

COLLINS: You made news by saying you are going to run for reelection.

BIDEN: I said that is my expectation.

COLLINS: So that is a yes that you are running for reelection.

BIDEN: I don’t know where you guys come from. I am a great respecter of fate. I have never been able to plan for three and a half years ahead for certain.

COLLINS: If you do, will Vice President Harris be on your ticket?

BIDEN: I would expect that to be the case. She’s doing a great job. She’s a great partner.

COLLINS: Do you believe you will be running against former President Trump?

“To this,” Mathis-Lilly continues, “Biden gave a longer answer which started with the phrase ‘Come on.’”

This is the kind of empty time-filler that the late Tim Russert used to pull on Meet the Press that somehow earned him the praise of other media people. Maybe there should be a general rule that you can’t ask questions about a next election more than a year before it’s gonig to happen.

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post:

The media did not distinguish themselves. By asking about immigration multiple times and echoing the false narrative that Biden had created a “surge,” they showed they were more interested in sound bites than actual news. Their failure to ask about the pandemic, the recession, anti-Asian violence, climate change or even infrastructure (Biden had to bring it up himself) was nothing short of irresponsible. They pleaded for a news conference and then showed themselves to be unserious. They never laid a glove on Biden; they did, however, make the case for why these events are an utter waste of the president’s time.

I don’t think press conferences per se are a waste of time. All politicians should put themselves out there and take questions from the press from time to time. But the next time anyone whines that Biden isn’t holding enough press conferences I’m sending a link to Rubin’s column.

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

9 thoughts on “The Problem With Press Conferences

  1. From something I'm working on (writing) related to this post…

    A year after my DC flight, I was having lunch at Federal Detention Center-Miami when an inmate slid into the seat across from me. We'd never met. I'm inclined to remember anyone with tattoos swirling from his hairline down his face and neck disappearing under the uniform khaki shirt. Skin ink extended from his wrists, up his muscled arms disappearing under the sleeves. Where the decoration met and ended, I didn't want to know. 
    “Can I ask you a question?” he asked.
    “Sure,” I said. It didn't seem like a good idea to refuse.
    “Why'd ya do it?”
    My crime and current residence were known to fellow-felons on our wing of the floor where we were dining, if you can use the word ‘dining’ for prison food. The interview had greater depth than when George Stephanopoulos quizzed me on Good Morning America. But my tattooed host wasn’t doing a show—he really wanted to know. For the umpteenth time in my life, the encounter reminded me not to judge by appearance. Americans across the spectrum, including felons with tattoos, care about this country, about justice, and about equality.


    This was a recurring theme in reality that I explore in the book. I got consistently better questions from regular people than I did from pros in the news business (with a few exceptions – Amy Goodman high on the list.)

  2. I always second-guess myself when I agree with or appreciate anything that Jennifer Rubin has to say.  The last year has been rough in more than Covid ways.

  3. "Journalism" has been so corrupted in the country, in multiple ways.  Good Night, and Good Luck begins to talk about some of this, set 60-70 years ago.

    The biggest story, as Jay Rosen put it, is We have a two-party system and one of the two is anti-democratic.

    That’s a crisis for any institution that assumes the two major parties have roughly equal legitimacy, but different priorities. Political journalism is one such institution. It lurches along with circuits fried.

    Oblivious to this – by design – we have bush-league reporters asking stupid questions of one of the most important leaders on the planet.

  4. Oy!

    That presser.

    I tried watching, but gave-up and went back to the intertubes.  It was a shabby shitshow at best.

    My friends here have heard me write about our MSM for years – and almost never in a complimentary way.  Today did nothing to dissuade me from my prior negative opinions.  Except, actually, to hold our MSM members in even lower esteem than before.

    Though everybody will vehemently deny it there, everyone knows that Washington DC is a RepubliKKKLAN town. 

    Reporters and pundits alike default to conservatism.  Why?  Well, imo, it's to prove that they themselves, and their employers, are not part of any "liberal media."

    I've long said that outside of a couple of handfuls of good to great reporters, the rest are cowardly and compliant – with some being downright complicit.  You can add confused in there, too.  Overall?  Think: Chuck Todd.

    Now, on top of being cowardly, compliant, often cimplicit, and occassionally confused, please add to that list vacuous, irresponsible, obtuse, and jejune.

     Can you tell I found my old thesaurus this evening?  Just kidding!

  5. What do people expect? The pandemic rages, we keep killing each other and the Senate won't do anything, etc. Gotta talk about something. .

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