President Joe Biden has a love-hate relationship with the media: They love his administration, his policies, and his party, but his overly secretive administration rejects the openness necessary to let the public scrutinize his policies. As recent polls show, a growing number of Americans believe President Biden is implementing an unpopular agenda in a halting and incompetent manner.
So, although the Biden administration received less negative media coverage during its first 60 days than any president in the last three decades, the administration has cloistered the president away from the press and attempted to control the narrative through a number of easily identifiable tools. Here are five of them:
1. Holding the fewest number of press briefings of any recent president
Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign — which consisted largely of hiding in his basement — proved so successful that he extended it to his presidency. After being elected president, Biden waited longer than any president in 100 years before holding his first press conference, 64 days.
Since then, he has largely taken a powder at the podium. As of this writing, President Biden has held a grand total of seven press conferences thus far in the first year of his presidency, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California Santa Barbara. That includes four solo press conferences and three joint conferences with other world leaders.
Seven press conferences is one of the lowest numbers of media availabilities of any president since the 1920s. President Ronald Reagan held only six events in his first year — although he was hospitalized part of the time due to an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. (who was recently granted release). President Gerald Ford also had six press conferences in his first year in office — but his first year began when Richard Nixon retired on August 8, 1974, so Ford held more than one press conference a month.
If you can’t ask the president a question, you can’t make him admit that he has no answers.
2. Pre-screening questions
Before the Biden administration will answer any questions, it would really like to see them in advance. The source is unimpeachable: The nation’s leading reporters broke this story themselves during a White House Correspondents Association Zoom call in February. The Daily Beast quoted one such journalist:
“While it’s a relief to see briefings return, particularly with a commitment to factual information, the press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want,” one White House correspondent said. “That’s not really a free press at all.”
“This is a totally normal procedure — if you live in a banana republic,” said Chris Barron in February.
A White House spokesperson justified the tactic by telling Fox News that the administration only engages in the practice “to make the daily briefing as useful and informative as possible for both reporters and the public,” as well as “to understand how the White House can be most helpful in getting them the information they need.” Reporters turning over their questions to Jen Psaki’s PR team ahead of time “is an important part of keeping the American people updated about how government is serving them,” the spokesperson said.
That’s one way of looking at it. Another would be to say the White House wants to avoid embarrassment, put the perfect amount of English on its spin, and prepare the perfect amount of TNT for a “Psaki bomb.”
3. Calling on a select list of reporters
President Biden has regularly opened his few press conferences the same way. After concluding his prepared remarks, he takes a list out of his pocket and reads the names of the reporters he’s been instructed to call on. The most recent example came during the president’s trip to the G20 in Rome on Sunday. After his prepared remarks, he said, “And now I’m happy to take some questions. And I’m told I should start with AP: Zeke Miller. Zeke, you have a question?”
Joe Biden calls on reporter from pre-approved list: “I’m told I should start with AP, Zeke Miller" pic.twitter.com/n7K2QtBdnq
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) October 31, 2021
“That was Biden’s first press conference in 108 days, and he only took 8 questions from an even fewer number of reporters from a preapproved list,” observed Republican National Committee Rapid Response Director Tommy Pigott.
The practice is anything but new. During a June press event in Geneva, Biden said, “I’ll take your questions and, as usual, folks, they gave me a list of the people I’m going to call on.” Again, while discussing his withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden said, “The first person I was instructed to call on Kelly O’Donnell of NBC.”
More concerning, although the president sometimes likes to take on Fox News’ Peter Doocy, his preapproved list frequently contains no conservative media outlet. The questions regularly go to The Associated Press, PBS/NPR, CNN, and the Big Three news networks, all of which have a dependably left-of-center bias.
So, President Biden will only speak to you if his administration puts your preapproved question on his preapproved list. It’s hard to get much more controlling than that — but the Biden administration manages.
4. Circling back to control the narrative/quotations
The Biden administration has regularly exploited a tool that allows its officials to delete embarrassing quotations and frame the exact words that appear in your newsfeed. It’s known as “background with quote approval.” Here’s how it works: Reporters can ask White House officials anything they like — and the official will answer … but the reporter cannot quote the person directly. Readers view stories that cite anonymous or unnamed sources with less trust than stories that include a direct quotation from a named source. But journalists who wish to attribute the information to a specific human being within the administration can only do so if they let the administration approve — or veto — the exact wording of the quotation.
The chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, Peter Baker, called this tactic “a pernicious, insidious, awful practice that reporters should resist.” He added, “The White House realized: ‘Hey … we can now control what is in [journalists’] stories by refusing to allow them to use anything without our approval.’”
5. Leaving major announcements without taking questions
If all else fails, the president has a final way to limit interaction with reporters: ignore them. The president has regularly concluded his public comments about controversial topics — ranging from the fall of Kabul to COVID-19 vaccinations. Sometimes he selectively chooses to engage or ignore the press, depending on whether the question serves his agenda. For instance, after a FEMA briefing in August, he said, “I’m not supposed to take any questions, but go ahead.” But when he realized that Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Jacobs wanted to ask about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Biden retorted, “I’m not going to answer Afghanistan now.” Then he walked away.
The Heritage Foundation described photos of President Biden turning his back on reporters as “an apt image,” because “[e]very time he concludes remarks and quickly turns his back to reporters, Biden is leaving the lasting impression that he is also turning his back on the American people.”
It’s an apt image presented by an administration that is usually very concerned about visuals and symbolism
Every time he concludes remarks and quickly turns his back to reporters, Biden is leaving the lasting impression that he is also turning his back on the American people pic.twitter.com/R61eEIdL2h
— Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) October 19, 2021
Again, if you can’t ask the president a question, you can’t make him admit that he has no answers. And the Biden administration’s handling of the media makes clear, they believe the president has no answers that can withstand meaningful scrutiny.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.