President Biden called on 10 reporters to answer 30-some questions during his long-awaited first formal press conference on Thursday. But the hour-plus event was a disgrace for some in the press and a dubious performance by the president.
The questions for the president were meek and vague, failing to extract any specific information about policies or solutions to the myriad problems faced by the administration. Take, for example, this activism disguised as a question from PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor on why the president needs to abolish the filibuster in the name of racial equality while combating evil Republicans in their efforts to prevent minorities from voting. Or something like that.
“When it comes to the filibuster, immigration is a big issue, of course, related to the filibuster, but there’s also Republicans who are passing bill after bill trying to restrict voting rights. [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer’s calling it in an existential threat to democracy,” Alcindor, who plays an objective journalist on TV, said to the president after being the second reporter chosen by Biden’s handlers for him to call upon. “Why not back a filibuster rule that at least gets around issues, including voting rights or immigration? [South Carolina Congressman] Jim Clyburn, someone, of course, who you know very well, has backed the idea of a filibuster rule when it comes to civil rights and voting rights.”
That’s not even bias in broad daylight. That’s outright activism in pressing the president on national television to move forward with abolishing the filibuster to advance an agenda she supports. Alcindor also failed to quote Biden’s own words back to him from a speech he called, at the time, one of the most important of his career: “It is not only a bad idea, it upsets the constitutional design and it disservices the country,” Biden argued in 2005 against eliminating the Senate filibuster. “No longer would the Senate be that ‘different kind of legislative body’ that the Founders intended. No longer would the Senate be the ‘saucer’ to cool the passions of the immediate majority.”
The reporter could have quoted Biden himself instead of quoting Schumer and Clyburn – but the goal was to shape a narrative and push the president even further to the left.
Overall, the press didn’t seem very interested in fact-checking the president on an array of whoppers, including:
* Biden claim: “We’re sending back the vast majority of families who are coming” to the U.S. border. (Fact: Just 13 percent of families are being sent back, according to a recent Axios report.)
* Biden claim: “The idea that I’m going to say, which I would never do, if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we’re just going to let them starve to death and stay on the other side, no previous administrations did either, except Trump.” (Fact: Yup, the 46th president accused the 45th president, with millions at home watching, of starving children to death at the border – which did not happen. There are no documented deaths by starvation.)
* Biden claim: “Truth of the matter is, nothing has changed. As many people came – 28 percent increase in children to the border in my administration; 31 percent in the last year in 2019, before the pandemic – in the Trump administration. It happens every single solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year.”
(Fact: According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, authorities at the border came into contact with 9,457 children without a parent in February alone, marking a 61 percent increase from January. Overall, border officials say the U.S. will take in more than 17,000 minors this month alone. That is unprecedented, yet the president and his press secretary continue to refuse to call this a crisis.)
Outside of NBC’s Kristen Welker and ABC’s Cecilia Vega regarding the border crisis, reporters were largely hospitable as opposed to hostile, which was all the rage (so to speak) during press conferences under the previous administration. Overall, President Trump was interrupted 16 times during his first press conference in 2017, while Biden was interrupted only four times despite calling on far fewer reporters than his predecessor did in the same situation.
There were other whoppers, per multiple fact-checks, but you get the idea: Biden was able to say whatever he wanted with almost no pushback.
Regarding optics, the president largely depended on multipage notes that he curiously took with him to the podium. No president in the modern era has done that before, and when Biden began thumbing through his notes before slowly reading from them at times, it was uncomfortable to watch, considering he is the leader of the free world. It very likely sent a clear message to our adversaries in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea regarding the commander in chief’s command of his own policies and worldview. It would have been nice for one reporter in the room to ask why he needed that kind of assistance, especially considering his nearly five decades in Washington.
Ultimately, there were plenty of fair, relevant, specific questions that could have been asked. For instance:
Question 1: Mr. President, you tapped your vice president to lead the effort to solve the crisis at the border. Yet she has compared Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the KKK and called on illegal crossings to be decriminalized. When asked this week if she was planning on visiting the border, she laughed. How does that sentiment, that perspective, make her qualified to address and solve this crisis?
VP Kamala Harris awkwardly laughs off a question from a TV reporter asking if she has plans to visit the border: “Not today” pic.twitter.com/VgF8qfH1Y5
– TV News HQ (@TVNewsHQ) March 22, 2021
Question 2: Mr. President, you said your $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package needed to pass in order to fully reopen schools. Yet, almost all of the money allocated won’t be spent until next year, when the pandemic likely will be over, largely due to the vaccines you inherited. What do you say to parents asking why you continue to defy the science, and your own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, in not fully reopening now?
Question 3: Mr. President, in addition to your recent $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passing, the administration is considering $3 trillion more for an infrastructure bill that includes non-infrastructure-related items such as free community college, equality and climate change. With all of these trillions being added to the federal budget, how does all of this get paid for and who ultimately pays for it?
Instead, we got questions that led to nothing in terms of insights into actual solutions or specific policies.
Biden held his first press conference yesterday. We got answers from the president that were misleading or outright invalid – mostly cotton-candy questions from a mostly marshmallow media. It’s like the campaign all over again, except that the candidate is now the most powerful man in the world.
And without a robust, balanced press holding the powerful accountable, Biden and the Democratic Party are about to become much more powerful.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.