We’ve written at length here over the last several weeks about the White House press corps’ growing frustrations over the fact that, to date, President Biden has yet to hold a formal solo press conference.
Biden’s failure to do so nearly two months into the first year of his presidency is the longest time period a new president has refused to directly address the press in a formal setting in at least 100 years.
When asked about it during the daily press briefings, Psaki has used any number of rationales to attempt to downplay the issue, stating at one point that one reason it was taking so long was that they needed to make sure it was done in a “COVD-safe way,” which was a ridiculous answer considering she’s been conducting COVID-safe briefings for nearly 8 weeks now.
At another point, Psaki made the claim that Biden has done some “40 Q and As” with the press, which was absurd considering what constitutes a “Q and A” in the White House’s view are instances where reporters are reduced to yelling out questions at the end of Biden’s public appearances in situations where Biden claims he can’t hear them — right before the press are aggressively herded away like cattle.
But though it was announced earlier this week that Biden would hold his first official presser on March 25th, reporters are still raising issues about the administration’s treatment of the press. One roundtable interview between journalists Tuesday was particularly revealing on this front.
NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett was asked by Politico’s Ryan Lizza during a panel discussion if he was concerned if current COVID restrictions could lead “to more permanent changes in the way that the White House allows us to cover them?” Bennett was shockingly candid in his assessment, admitting that the press corps was aware of how the Biden administration was using COVID protocols to limit interactions with and be selective of the press, in part, to avoid the risk of having to field “uncomfortable questions”:
But I think one of the things that people didn’t get a good enough sense of, and this was certainly the case during the transition, was that the COVID restrictions allowed the Biden team to really limit the reporters who were brought into those press conferences in that theater in Wilmington. And then beyond that, they were able to select the folks who got to ask questions of then-President-elect Biden. That’s not to say — and frankly, by doing that, the White House comms — now the White House comms, but then the Biden comms team, they were basically doing their job, right? They had a message they wanted to get forward, and they were trying to protect their principal.
They didn’t know the questions we were gonna ask, but they certainly knew who we were, all the reporters were known quantities. So there was no chance that they were gonna call on, you know, some local reporter from some unnamed newspaper who was gonna ask Joe Biden a potentially difficult or uncomfortable question.
NBC’s White House correspondent admits how the Biden administration manipulates the media and reporters to avoid “uncomfortable” questions. pic.twitter.com/1RNLCBBk9j
— MRCTV (@mrctv) March 17, 2021
In other words, Bennett basically admitted the White House knows who the reporters are (including him) in the national press corps who will lob softballs at them rather than ask tough questions, and they plan press interactions accordingly while also using COVID restrictions as an excuse to severely limit media access.
Interestingly enough, nearly this exact scenario played out during a visit Vice President Kamala Harris made to Colorado to tout the COVID “relief” bill Tuesday, where local reporters were shut out of being able to join her on her tour of the state and ask questions.
So while Biden does indeed have an official presser on the schedule for later this month, don’t look for much in the way of substance beyond the predictable gaffes. As has been for the entirety of his presidency, and most of last year where he campaigned from his basement, he will know exactly which reporters he can count on to plump his pillow and which ones he needs to avoid, meaning we’ll get few if any meaningful exchanges between the leader of the free world and the members of the press who are supposed to help hold him accountable.