The major news of the week out of Geneva was the episode between President Biden and CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins. You would be excused if you wondered if this had been a contrived event, a piece of loud but low-altitude drama meant to distract from the rash of embarrassments from Biden over the past week. It created just the type of furor the press loves; it became a story about themselves, and on an international stage.
Following his presser, Biden was exiting near a clutch of reporters, and Collins, in that mix, managed to shout out a question that caught Biden’s ear. He came back to their location and in an intemperate manner he dressed down Collins, accusing her of misquoting him and then closing with, “If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.”
Biden was compelled to issue an apology of sorts. He did not apologize directly to Collins but addressed a clutch of reporters at the base of the stairway to Air Force One. “I owe my last questioner an apology.I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave.” he said, but then qualified his remark. “To be a good reporter you have got to be negative, you have got to have a negative view on life, OK, it seems to me. You never ask a positive question.”
What has been so revealing about this exchange is the reaction across the journalism landscape. While many took Collins’ side there were many who, in reflexive defense of the President, accused her of asking a loaded question with many saying she put words in his mouth. This was their way of declaring that Biden was in line with defending his own record. The notable departure here is, of course, how different this reaction is to the past four years.
Imagine the outrage and the weeks of coverage we would have been treated to had President Trump ever approached a female reporter with his finger out, angrily cutting her down. The attack on the press and the sexism on display would be screeched about for days. As an example, look at how Jake Tapper reacted when Collins had a disagreement with Kayleigh MacEnany; he coddled the reporter after saying she had been attacked. Biden’s response exceeded that melodrama, yet we have no such hyperbole.
And many in the press are siding with the President. Amazingly, after years of decrying a political leader pushing back at the press was the equivalent of taking a machete to the Bill of Rights, there were many taking issue with Kaitlan Collins.
Out of curiosity, is there a previous Biden quote where he says he is “so confident” about Putin changing his behavior, as Kaitlan Collins’ question implied? I didn’t see the whole presser
— Isaac Chotiner (@IChotiner) June 16, 2021
Not a fair question. Kind of a stupid question. Hard to tell if it was in good faith as she was quoting him on something he didn’t say but beyond that, sure. https://t.co/Dc31La4lZh
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) June 16, 2021
It would've served Biden better to not lose his temper with Kaitlan Collins. But the problem with her question is she put words in Biden's mouth that he didn't say. Biden never expressed confidence that Putin would change his behavior.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 16, 2021
Final thoughts on Biden-Collins exchange. Biden shouldn't have snapped. Right to apologize. Reporters should ask tough questions, but they can't do it by using words POTUS never said. That's an unfair trap. More focus on actual news and less on personalities.
— Joe Lockhart (@joelockhart) June 17, 2021
Fact check: false.
That wasn’t anger. He responded appropriately to a ridiculously dishonest question.
— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) June 16, 2021
Frankly , I think Biden was right to lose his patience with a Journalist or any journalist who tries to twist his words. Calling that crap out is the way forward. Enough bullshit .the Truth and nothing but the truth.
— ✌🏼rosanna arquette (@RoArquette) June 17, 2021
Lost in the desire to defend Biden however, are the facts. Those taking issue with the question posed to Biden claim that Collins was resorting to a gotcha moment and was placing words in Biden’s mouth. What gets exposed here is that many of those claiming that the CNN reporter was putting words in the President’s mouth, and declaring Biden never said he was “confident”, failed to look into the matter.
What set the President off was this line in her lengthy question. “Why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behavior, Mr. President?” This is what stopped Biden in his departure and walk over directly to address Collins.
“I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior — what the hell, what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? Let’s get it straight. I said what will change their behavior, is if the rest of the world reacts to them and diminishes the standing new world. I’m not confident of anything, I’m just stating the facts.“
Well, to answer Biden’s question, let us just state facts. When did President Biden say he was confident? It was earlier that same afternoon. At the press conference, he was asked a question from The Associated Press about Russia’s involvement with our elections and some recent hacking on our interests, and what steps Biden took to curtail the activity. In his answer, using his trademark fractured diction, Biden said this.
Now, look, one of the consequences that I know — I don’t know; I shouldn’t say this; it’s unfair of me — I suspect you may all think doesn’t matter, but I’m confidence it matters to him — confident it matter to him and other world leaders of big nations: his credibility worldwide shrinks.
This exchange is in the official White House record, readily researchable by all journalists. It looks quite revealing that there is a faction in the press who appear intent on simply siding with the President here and not exploring the matter. Now it can be argued over intent in the statement, that Biden said he is confident Putin will change, or that he possibly said he is confident it “matters” to Putin to change. But at this point, you are parsing words, and it would have to ignore Biden’s use of “confident”, which Collins is being accused of inserting.
Looking over his quotes shows that Kaitlan Collins was not at all out of line with her question. What it also shows is just how many in the press are simply following the administration’s lead and are unwilling to explore the matter in a journalistic fashion.