Eventually, the media has to stop giving passes to President Joe Biden and his administration, right?
I thought this question was rhetorical in January. The easy questions would have to go away as the situations the president was dealing with became considerably less easy.
The mood in the White House press briefing room has gotten a bit testier these days with the border crisis, but it’s still nothing like the full-contact Serious Truth Telling™ the media engaged in with the former administration. Plus, they were only doing it with press secretary Jen Psaki.
Yes, it’s March, and the president of the United States hadn’t done a solo news conference until Thursday. That’s more than two months in office. Considering that the rarity of former President Donald Trump’s news conferences was something the media brayed about endlessly, too, it’s interesting there wasn’t that much concern that Biden wouldn’t face the media on his own.
But now, that would change. We’d see firsthand what happened when Biden was up there alone, with no intermediary, answering the media’s questions.
Granted, they wouldn’t be difficult questions, given the media’s sympathies — but seeing as how he’d whiffed at a few softballs during a CNN town hall in Wisconsin last month, this could be the most important conference of his life. It could reassure the American people that, yes, the president was more than a fuzzy figurehead.
Asked about it Wednesday, the day before his big news conference was to happen, Biden seemed to forget about it:
The eve before finally facing reporters after 9wks in office
Q:”Are you preparing for the press conference tomorrow sir?”
Q:”Are you preparing for the press conference tomorrow?”
Aide:”Ready for press conference tomorrow sir”
Biden:”What press conference” pic.twitter.com/YaKj3DkKcT
— Mona Salama (@MonaSalama_) March 25, 2021
“Are you ready for the press conference tomorrow, sir?” a reporter asked.
“Pardon me?” Biden said, putting on his mask.
“Are you ready for the press conference tomorrow?” he repeated.
The president, meanwhile, stood there like a man who was just informed by his wife that tomorrow was their anniversary; she was wondering about what he’d planned and he’d actually scheduled poker night with Senate leadership in the Lincoln Bedroom.
“Are you ready for the press conference tomorrow, sir?” a different reporter chimed in.
“The press conference!” another yelled.
Biden’s response: “What press conference?”
How this was covered depended on what corner of the media was providing the coverage. Fox News’ White House correspondent Peter Doocy noted that it wasn’t a good look and that he had “a binder full of questions.”
Peter Doocy: “Somebody shouted out to Biden ‘how are you getting ready for your press conference’ and he said: ‘what press conference?’” pic.twitter.com/fEbEXOb5T2
— TV News HQ (@TVNewsHQ) March 24, 2021
The Associated Press, meanwhile, played it off as a jocular moment by a confident president.
“West Wing aides have dismissed the questions about a news conference as a Washington obsession, pointing to Biden’s high approval ratings while suggesting that the general public is not concerned about the event,” they reported.
“The president himself, when asked Wednesday if he were ready for the press conference, joked, ‘What press conference?’”
The problem with the joke is that it came after Biden froze like a Commodore 64 trying to load Photoshop when he was asked about the press conference several times. It’s also playing into why the news briefing has become a national obsession: Biden’s brand is not being all there. Not infrequently, our president seems to have the lucidity of Tommy Chong.
Of all the things to joke about, not remembering that there was a news conference probably wasn’t the best choice — especially since the joke only came after a pause which suggested he really did forget about it.
The problem is that this moment was kind of an appetizer to a car crash of a news conference — one that started off reasonably well and quickly degraded into Joe Biden debate territory.
By the time he was asked whether he would be running for re-election in 2024, the fact he said yes was rather undermined because he looked a man who’d potentially resign right there if given the option to trade the office for a nap.
Yes, it was a joke. Given the disaster that was to come, it should have also served as a portent.
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