President Joe Biden finally had his first press conference yesterday. Given that the press mostly treated it as a caucus meeting for Congressional Democrats, hopefully he’ll have fewer of them in the future.
That isn’t to say that the press didn’t ask good questions. It’s just that most of the questions were about the horse-racing aspect of the administration (the how questions) versus the rationale questions which ask why something is being done—or more importantly, if it should be done at all.
All that to say that the questions were designed to move the president’s agenda forward, rather than search for the truth.
The common theme by the press was generally “Since the Republicans are so mean and won’t cooperate with your mandate to do what we want them to do, how will you defeat them?
Zeke Miller with the Associated Press set the tone:
“Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned your progress on COVID-19. I’d like to ask you about some of the other issues facing your presidency. One of the defining challenges you face in the coming months is how to deliver on your promise to Americans on issues like immigration reform, gun control, voting rights, climate change. All of those right now are facing stiff, united opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill. How far are you willing to go to achieve those promises that you made to the American people?”
Miller, first of all, tacitly congratulates Biden on a great job with COVID before pivoting to the rest of Biden’s agenda and asking how he’ll defeat the GOP.
Just to make it clear, Miller followed up with:
“And just to — to follow up, Mr. President, can your presidency be a success if you can’t make progress on those four challenges: climate change, immigration reform, gun control, voting rights?”
To some extent, the press conference was a replay of the election contest, when the press rarely challenged Biden on matters of policy, simply assuming that anything that Biden did would be better than anything Trump did.
Miller was followed up by Yamiche Alcindor of PBS, who gave the very best speech by press disguised as a question, this one on immigration:
“Thanks so much, Mr. President. You’ve said over and over again that immigrants shouldn’t come to this country right now; this isn’t the time to come. That message is not being received. Instead, the perception of you that got you elected — as a moral, decent man — is the reason why a lot of immigrants are coming to this country and entrusting you with unaccompanied minors.
“How do you resolve that tension?”
Aw, shucks, responded the president:
“Well, look, I guess I should be flattered people are coming because I’m the nice guy; that’s the reason why it’s happening — that I’m a decent man or however it’s phrased. That — you know, that’s why they’re coming, because they know Biden is a good guy.”
— Bo Snerdley (@BoSnerdley) March 25, 2021
The most outrageous moment however happened when, in response to a question about immigration, Biden claimed that president Trump let children in migrant facilities starve to death and the comment was not challenged by any member of the press.
Newsweek, the Independent and The Los Angeles Times each mentioned the Biden allegation that Trump starved kids at the border in their “fact-check” of the press conference, without challenging it. The Times simply noted that “Biden exaggerated” the charge of letting kids starve to death at the border.
Overall, given the performance of the media, however, it’s possible to say after this first press conference that the death of the free press in the US has not been greatly exaggerated.