Biden’s Lack of Press Conferences

On the one hand, true. On the other, so what?

Source: The White House

I have noticed versions of this recurring story over the last week (via WaPo): After 50 days as president, Biden still hasn’t given a news conference. Critics and allies wonder why.

The critics cited in the piece? Kayleigh McEnany and Mark Meadows, late of the Trump administration. In both cases, on Fox programs where the thesis has long been the Biden is a bumbling old man.

The allies? The WaPo editorial board (allies because they endorsed him).

Plus, we can’t discount the significance of round numbers like 50, now can we?

In all seriousness, in the abstract, I would have liked for any president to have had a press conference by now, but I also do not see a substantive problem with the lack thereof. (Although it isn’t like this White House has been bad about providing information–the normal press briefings from Psaki have been a nice return to normalcy).

This feels like a made-up problem so that outlets like WaPo can show they are being tough/critical of the Democrat in office. And for right-wing media, it feels like an attempt to pretend like there is something wrong with Biden because they have long cast him as not up to the job.

And look, goodness knows Biden can deliver some verbal gaffes. And maybe they are worried about that, or maybe he really hasn’t felt it worth his time to give a press conference at the moment.

Here are some comparative figures:

At this point in office, Trump had given five news conferences. Obama had given two, George W. Bush three and Clinton five.

However, those figures require an asterisk. Four of the five news conferences Trump gave during this period were the bilateral kind, in which the president and a foreign leader appear jointly and take turns calling on reporters. He went solo in only one of the five. Obama, Bush and Clinton also appeared alone just once during their first 50 days.

Yet all modern presidents develop communications strategies that play to their strengths and comfort levels, and sometimes these do not prioritize news conferences, said John Woolley, the Presidency Project’s other co-director.

“I can imagine [Biden] doesn’t see a big benefit in press conferences,” Woolley said, especially since he has recently succeeded with the passage of the coronavirus relief bill. Meanwhile, there could be little to be gained by “taking questions on every conceivable topic from a very heterogeneous media crowd.”

[…]

In the meantime, Biden has used other strategies to communicate his agenda and policies, such as restoring daily briefings by his press secretary and relying on staff and surrogates to promote initiatives like the covid bill.

In any case, Woolley said, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of a relationship between a president’s achievements and reputation and the frequency of his news conferences. “So really, [the question is] ‘so what?'”

So what? indeed.

FILED UNDER: Joe Biden, Media, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Loviatar says:

    I strongly approve of this Biden press conference reticence, and for 4 reasons

    Reason 1)

    Assertive presidential leadership can polarize something that otherwise would be broadly unifying. IE the reason we had a “Marshall Plan” (named after then SecState) rather than a “Truman Plan” was that President Truman’s name excited strong partisan feelings

    We saw this in the Obama and Trump years over and over again. People might not have an opinion over this program or that issue. They had STRONG feelings about Obama/Trump. Attach the high-intensity name, and the merits of the program/issue got lost.

    9
  2. James Joyner says:

    @Steven: I must admit, while I like the idea of give-and-take in the manner of Prime Minister’s Question Time, it may well simply be an artifact of a much different media and information environment. There are so many ways for critics to question administration policies and for the administration to respond.

    1
  3. Teve says:

    I suspect Biden’s hanging back partly to give us all a break from the daily craziness of the past 4-5 years. The Prez doesn’t need to be the news every damn day.

    7
  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    Just last year, the Trump administration went more than 300 days without a press briefing, much less a press conference. Please stop amplifying this bad-faith propaganda.

    30
  5. Teve says:

    Edward-Isaac Dovere relayed an anonymous person’s description of Biden as a human golden retriever. Which is a relief after the human Chow Chow that we just got rid of.

  6. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: my eyes rolled very hard when I hit the asterisk part.

  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    What’s not to like about question time? Of course that is questioning by the parliament and not the press.

    Biden has instituted a functioning communications strategy that gets the press answers to the questions that they have. Except for a press conference around a significant news event, is the citizenry better served by a generic presidential press conference?

    4
  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I’ve been reading several things lately saying QT has become a waste of time as Boris Johnson has basically figured out that you just have to give debate style non-answer answers to all the questions and there’s nothing that the questioners can actually do about it.

    2
  9. Jax says:

    Why bother, when the right wing press is just gonna use it to produce heavily edited clips that appear to support their position that Biden is senile and Kamala Harris is actually running the show? The “hot takes” from the right after his address the other night were enough for me to not give a damn if he does a press conference EVER.

    I do love that his prime time address got better ratings than Trump’s did, though. That’s gotta be a good kick in the nads for poor Trumpie.

    9
  10. @Stormy Dragon:

    Please stop amplifying this bad-faith propaganda.

    Sigh.

    Did you note the part wherein I was critical of the position and the way it was being addressed?

    10
  11. Bill says:

    C’mon man, let’s not pretend that Joe isn’t able to do much aside from try to read of the teleprompter- and there’s no way he could entertain spontaneous questions from an unbiased reporter. He’s losing it, as anyone who’s seen him in action just 10 years ago could attest.

  12. Kurtz says:

    @Bill:

    Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and wonder why you just repeat what someone told you? If you don’t, you should. And if you have, lock yourself there until you understand why I am giving this advice.

    Why choose to be a zombie?

    23
  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I’ve also read the research that bringing up misinformation even to refute it only spreads it further. So if you want to call McEnany or Meadows for being liars, cool. If you want to call out the Washington Post editorial board for professional malpractice, also cool. Both of those things can be done without giving the repetition of their misinformation primary focus.

    6
  14. Moosebreath says:

    @Bill:

    “let’s not pretend that Joe isn’t able to do much aside from try to read of the teleprompter”

    Funny, but I can remember Republicans making the exact same complaint about Obama, even after he cleaned their clock in debating the ACA with them. Just shows how good Republicans are at getting high on their own supply.

    22
  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bill still can’t admit Trump lost. He’s not in touch with reality.

    When’s the new Q date, Bill? You know, when your Orange Jesus rides back into Washington to smite baby-eating liberals? I want to make sure to clear the date.

    12
  16. @Stormy Dragon: All well and good, and even a topic worthy of consideration and discussion.

    Weirdly, if you have a concern, you might attempt not just being a jerk about it.

    6
  17. @Kurtz:

    Why choose to be a zombie?

    It’s a good question.

    2
  18. EddieInCA says:

    Given what the WH Press Corps has been asking recently, I’m glad Biden is avoiding press conferences. Psaski is doing a great job, as far as I’m concerned in dealing with the BS.

    “Is Presdent Biden’s Dog going to be euthanized?” – Actual question.

    Enough said.

    9
  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Both of those things can be done without giving the repetition of their misinformation primary focus.

    Unless Dr. Taylor is going to go with drive-by “Kayleigh and WaPo are lying again” posts of the sort our friend Bill (nee bill) does, meh… not so much. Showing the evidence and all that.

    There are people who advocate for drive-by commenting, though, I just didn’t think we had any here.

  20. Monala says:

    @EddieInCA: she handled one reporter asking a “many Americans say” question by asking, “What Americans are saying this?”

    When the reporter replied, “well, President Trump…”, Psaki replied, “we don’t take guidance from the former president.”

    17
  21. Lounsbury says:

    @Bill: There is something amusing about the fact you pathetically think your comment could be taken seriously at all.

    Of course as the historical record shows, the left side Democrats had such brilliant success with similar flailing strategies with Reagan, so it shall be interesting to see this evolve.

    1
  22. Gustopher says:

    If the right wing hacks weren’t complaining about the lack of press conferences, they would be complaining about the content. I have no objection to Biden trying to starve the beast.

    And, so long as Psaki is doing a great job, do we need Biden to swoop in and do a worse job? Sometimes America needs to hear from the President, but that’s what speeches are for.

    I don’t see what great value is served by having Biden personally answer whatever complete bullshit the right has come up with on some random Tuesday.

    4
  23. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Weirdly, if you have a concern, you might attempt not just being a jerk about it.

    What exactly about “Please stop amplifying this bad-faith propaganda” qualifies as “being a jerk”?

    3
  24. MarkedMan says:

    @EddieInCA: Exactly. I stopped watching press conferences decades ago. I suspect television ruined them and we just haven’t accepted that. Every TV correspondent needs to get footage of the President answering a question, and it has to be the question they think their listeners are most interested in, so we get the same gossipy, stupidly antagonistic question over and over again. It’s a waste of everyone’s time aside from the reporter who has to justify their paycheck.

    I vaguely remember when I realized this. There was a President (Carter? HW? Clinton?) who would take two or three questions from foreign print media. Many of these questions concerned what the official US position was on an area important to their readers, and the President’s reply was almost always well thought out and reflected official US policy as voiced by the head of state. And then they would return back to the CBS guy who would ask another inane question in a faux-challenging manner. It was an embarrassment.

    4
  25. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: Maybe we should go back to having press conferences, but untelevised? (Either that or insisting that the questions address actual issues and if a totally inane question gets asked banning the reporter from the next three press conferences.)

    2
  26. mattbernius says:

    I know that Bill 1.0 went a little of the rails at the end of things, but I gotta say that the upgraded version is far worse.

    Did anyone have the original disks or know how uninstall this patch?

    10
  27. @Stormy Dragon:

    What exactly about “Please stop amplifying this bad-faith propaganda” qualifies as “being a jerk”?

    TBH, it comes across as “don’t write this thing you just wrote” without really engaging as to why–especially when I engaged in the next comment, and then you just continue to assert your editorial preferences without having a conversation. There is also the assumption that I should approach the topic the way you want it approached, which comes across as a bit presumptuous.

    Really, I think you are mainly objecting to the headline?

    But, I will admit that I should have just ignored it, as it really is likely a result of problems with tone in a print-only medium such as this.

    3
  28. @mattbernius: This is bill 2.0 (now Bill), not to be confused with banned Bill.

    (I know it gets hard to keep up with).

    2
  29. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..insisting that the questions address actual issues…

    President John F. Kennedy’s 63rd News Conference – October 31, 1963
    2:48…Mr. President back to the question of troop reductions are any intended in the Far East at the present time particularly in Korea and is there any speed up in the withdrawal from Vietnam…
    JFK: As you know when Secretary McNamara and General Taylor(?) came back they announced that we would expect to withdraw 1000 men from South Vietnam before the end of the year.

    1
  30. Bill says:

    The zombie is in the white house, denial doesn’t make it any better! Ok, get triggered en masse….

  31. Moosebreath says:

    @Bill:

    “get triggered en masse….”

    Yep, we’re all going to storm the Capitol together. No wait, that’s what happens when you snowflakes got triggered.

    5
  32. @Bill: So, you are admitting that your only goal is being a troll.

    9
  33. Gustopher says:

    @Bill: You think that weak tea is going to trigger anyone?

    Yes, we get it, you’ve bought into the lie that Biden is senile. When you bring shit like that up, we don’t react with horror that you’re exposing the truths we all deny, we react with horror that a large chunk of the Republican leaning electorate believes these obviously transparent lies.

    We’re not even laughing at you, we’re sad for you.

    We pity you.

    Have you even known someone suffering from dementia? That’s not Biden.

    Sure, we all had our doubts for a moment when he was telling the Corn Pop story, but it turns out Corn Pop was a real dude, William L Morris, who died in 2016, at the age of 73, and everyone around at the time confirmed the story.

    9
  34. Jax says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And like a D- level troll, at that.

    We really need to have a talk with management about sending better trolls. 😉 Even that Ukraine guy a couple years ago had better arguments besides “sleepy Joe”.

    2
  35. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well, if it looks like a troll, trolls like a troll, and leaves troll s**t all over, is an admission necessary?

    2
  36. Jax says:

    @Kathy: It’s like the no shirt no shoes no service thing. Nobody has to let the troll poop in the yard. If he had something to offer besides “Biden’s a zombie, yuk yuk yuk”, I’d be down for engaging.

    2
  37. Raoul says:

    My brief take is that we are all still decompressing from the previous fellow and based on the current coverage the media can’t still let him go. Until we return to normalcy, a press conference is just a waste of time. I mean last week a journalist asked the press secretary why she wasn’t lauding Trump? So instead of pointing the finger at the president maybe we should look at our press corps.

    1
  38. Ken_L says:

    The important question is this: what public interest, if any, would be served by a president press conference? He’s done a town hall. He’s taken questions at various public appearances, most recently yesterday. He’s done interviews, and will shortly do another. His press secretary holds daily briefings Monday to Friday.

    The answer to the question is that no significant public interest would be served by him holding a formal press conference. The interest it would serve is the media’s, which is desperate to fill the gaping void in political news left by Trump’s departure and the loss of the daily tweet-storm. Just as the only people with a practical interest in Biden giving a boring speech to Congress are reporters, who would get material for a week’s “analysis” from a banal recitation of platitudes. You never know, a Supreme Court judge might shake their head during the speech, or Marge Greene might walk out!

  39. Ken_L says:

    @Raoul: The White House Press Rabble’s idea of a devastating question is to summarize what Republicans and/or the right-wing blogs have said about something and ask for the president’s response. The only questions that actually seek to solicit useful information almost all come from foreign journalists, usually at joint presss conferences between the US President and a visiting dignitary.

    1
  40. EddieInCA says:

    @Bill:

    Triggered? Dude. I was picking. on this very site, Biden/Harris as both my 1st Choice of who I wanted, AND who I thought was going to win… In February of 2019.

    Triggered? Not even a smidgen.

    Triggered? That’s some weak shit.

    3
  41. Mikey says:

    @Gustopher:

    Have you even known someone suffering from dementia? That’s not Biden.

    My late father suffered from dementia for the last 10 years of his life. I see far more similarities with Trump’s patterns of speech and behavior than with anything Biden says or does.

    2
  42. al Ameda says:

    @Bill:
    That reminds me … To my knowledge, Biden has NOT been front and center is recommending that those who are reticent to get vaccinated might be interested in Hydroxychloraquine or Lysol.

  43. Lounsbury says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I rather think you were right to object.

    1
  44. Lounsbury says:

    @Bill: So really the pathetic flailing as the Democrats used to do about Ronald Reagan with such great effect and success (this would be sarcasm).