Biden has lost his patience with the ‘negative’ press corps before six-month mark
President Joe Biden is increasingly dropping his “Uncle Joe” persona with reporters as pressure mounts on the White House to notch legislative accomplishments before the 2022 midterm elections.
Biden’s growing frustration with “negative” questions suggests the end of his press honeymoon, but it also poses problems for the White House communications team as reporters regain access to the president thanks to the easing of pandemic social distancing requirements.
Obama White House spokesman Eric Schultz dismissed complaints about Biden’s outbursts as “a desperate attempt to search for any critique of Biden since nothing else seems to stick.”
“The president answers questions from reporters regularly — with respect and admiration for their role,” he told the Washington Examiner. “This White House deeply respects the role of journalists — with everyone fielding questions and answering them as truthfully and candidly as they can.”
But Biden has a history of being prickly when faced with questions he does not like, from both reporters and voters. His irritability can be contrasted with former President Donald Trump’s hostility. Yet, while it chafes with Biden’s typically affable public image, it aligns with his reputation for berating staffers who, for instance, litter his speeches with jargon laypeople will not understand.
Biden is not as apt as his predecessors at spinning an unwelcome question with a talking point or pivot to the message of the day, according to political and media historian Brian Rosenwald, who contended it was “more a difference in personality than a difference in substance.”
“In terms of Democrats, I think there is probably a certain frustration that comes from having to hear conservatives scream and shout about how liberal the media is, while also confronting reporters constantly criticizing them, focusing on negative things, etc. But that’s probably more at the staff level,” he said.
“In essence, there is a bit of a tug of war always going on,” he said. “Presidents and their staff want to script everything and focus on positive stuff. The media wants to puncture that idyllic portrait and sees its role as holding the administration to account.”
For historian and journalism professor David Greenberg, the adversarial relationship between a president and the press is a bipartisan phenomenon.
“It goes back to Theodore Roosevelt, the first president of the modern media age. He wanted to control the agenda — what was reported on, how it was covered,” he said. “But the press believes it should set the agenda and that to fall in line behind the president’s wishes is mere stenography.”
The trend was exacerbated during the mid-1960s after the Vietnam War and Watergate furor, though there are examples of the odd exchange even from when the dynamic was more sympathetic and cozier, Greenberg explained.
“I don’t think you can see all that much difference between Republicans and Democrats — they all feel the media are being too hard on them, trying to trap them, harping on scandal or failure, and so on,” he said.
Biden chided reporters last week who were peppering him with questions about the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield. The U.S. operation had been headquartered at the airfield, and the personnel departure effectively ended the country’s military mission despite the Taliban’s recent rise.
“I want to talk about happy things, man,” Biden said last week. “It’s the holiday weekend. I’m going to celebrate it. There’s great things happening.”
He caught himself after criticizing the “negative” questions, going on to describe them as “legitimate.”
Only three weeks earlier, Biden had lectured reporters about being “negative” before boarding Air Force One after his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. He had snapped at a correspondent during his press conference, asserting that she was in “the wrong business” if she did not comprehend his approach to foreign policy. She had asked the president why he was confident Putin would change his behavior.
“Look, to be a good reporter, you got to be negative. You got to have a negative view of life, OK? It seems to me, the way you all, you never ask a positive question,” he said on the tarmac of Geneva Airport after apologizing to the journalist.
“I mean, look, guys, I’m going to drive you all crazy because I know you want me to always put a negative thrust on things, particularly in public,” he added.
Biden’s interactions with reporters mostly become inflamed if they ask him about his family. During the 2020 campaign, Biden mocked a Fox News correspondent as being “classy” after he pressed the president about his son Hunter fathering a daughter in a drug-induced one-night stand.
“That’s a private matter. You’re a good man. You’re a good man. Classy,” Biden said.
Biden was similarly triggered by an Iowa voter who asked about Hunter’s business dealings with Ukrainian oligarchy-linked natural gas company Burisma Holdings. The president blasted the man as “a damn liar.”
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Original Author: Naomi Lim