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Media: This 'Hidin' Biden' Character Hasn't Given Many Interviews or Press Conferences, Has He?

Drew Angerer/Pool via AP

Joe Biden famously ran a "basement strategy" presidential campaign, in which he kept a relatively low profile, en route to his 2020 victory. The idea was pretty straightforward: Let the polarizing incumbent suck up all the oxygen while offering voters a "safe," low-key alternative. Biden was both signaling and stating outright that he would defeat the virus, unify the country, and drastically reduce the drama surrounding our politics. Voters, especially independents, liked the sound of that. His party came to embrace the "bunker" approach, and it ultimately worked. But as I've written and stated before, there's a difference between running a basement campaign during the teeth of a once-in-a-generation pandemic and running the equivalent sort of presidency.

Setting aside the early lids, the limited public schedules, and other sources of criticism on this front, Politico and the Associated Press notice that the president simply isn't fielding rigorous questions with the frequency of his recent predecessors:

Biden has done just 22 media interviews, fewer than any of his six most recent White House predecessors at the same point in their presidencies. The 46th president has held just nine formal news conferences — six solo and three jointly with visiting foreign leaders...Former President Donald Trump, who regularly pilloried the media, did 92 interviews in his first year in office, more than two dozen of those with friendly interlocutors at Fox News. But Trump also held lengthy sessions with ABC News, The Associated Press, the New York Times, Reuters and other outlets whose coverage he impugned throughout his presidency. Biden’s 22 media interviews have included one-on-one sessions with journalists at three of the major television networks, three CNN town halls, an appearance on MSNBC, a trio of regional television interviews via Zoom, as well as conversations with late night host Jimmy Fallon and ESPN’S Sage Steele. He’s given just three print interviews. The White House has fielded requests from media outlets — and complaints from the White House Correspondents’ Association — for Biden to do more one-on-one interviews and formal news conferences.

The White House has pushed back against this line of critique, citing Biden's propensity to take brief flurries of questions in informal settings – but such sessions are often truncated, and opportunities for in-depth follow-ups or specific challenges are limited. That's a key difference between quick ad hoc sessions and sit-down interview settings, as explained last year by longtime "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace, who offered a working theory on the White House press team's approach: 

"I just feel that people don’t have confidence. You know, he doesn’t inspire confidence and reassurance that what he says is going to happen and that he’s in in command of the situation...there’s a reason for everything in politics. And the reason is, obviously this is a White House that wants to protect this president and doesn’t have full confidence in his ability to handle those kinds of intense situations where somebody is going to press him."

It's an understandable concern. In two of the president's rare network interviews last year, he made statements that ended up burning his credibility or making him look ridiculous. With George Stephanopolous in August, he offered a series of assertions that ranged from shaky to outright false – and infamously made a solemn promise that he shattered in short order. And last month, the president looked upon the COVID testing mess he's been presiding over ("shut down the virus" feels like a distant memory) and claimed that he wished he'd thought of ramping up testing capacity months earlier. But his team had been presented with precisely that idea and reportedly rejected it, on account of their singular obsession with vaccination. These exchanges have not gone well for Biden, who often gets ornery, steps on political landmines, or sets traps for himself, when facing sustained, pointed questioning. So he doesn't often subject himself to such questioning. The American people have not been impressed (peep that gruesome number among independents): 

I'll leave you with this:


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