President Joe Biden promised us the most transparent administration in American history. Instead, the man who campaigned largely from his basement is still Hidin’ Biden: He held fewer press conferences than any of his five immediate predecessors the first year in office. His Wednesday presser marking Thursday’s anniversary of his inauguration was just his 10th — and only his second solo one.
And Biden gave just 22 media interviews last year, fewer than any of his six most recent predecessors, Towson University’s White House Transition Project found.
While he’s “taken questions more often at his events than his predecessors, he spends less time doing so,” notes Towson professor Martha Joynt Kumar. “He provides short answers with few follow-ups when he takes questions at the end of a previously scheduled speech.”
As White House Correspondents’ Association President Steven Portnoy complained in a tweet, “The historical record of a presidency requires more than fleeting Q&A.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists released its own report last week, condemning “the president’s limited availability to journalists, the administration’s slow responses to requests for information, its planned extradition of Julian Assange, restrictions on media access at the US southern border, and its limited assistance to Afghan journalists.”
Biden spent a quarter of his time in Delaware, away from most of the Washington press corps, but won’t release his Delaware visitor logs. When he finally does take questions, his staff often equip him with a hand-picked list of suitable journalists to call on.
In November, Sky News Australia showed images of Biden’s detailed list of pre-approved reporters he could deign to speak with after the G20 summit in Rome.
Biden also faced backlash after saying he’d only call on reporters from a canned list after his June summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I’ll take your questions, and as usual, folks, they gave me a list of the people I’m going to call on,” Biden told the journalists.
We don’t know who this vague “they” were, but there’s a good chance it included White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who horrified reporters last year by asking them for their questions before her briefing.
Psaki didn’t deny seeking to sanitize the pressers, with a White House spokesperson spinning, “Our goal is to make the daily briefing as useful and informative as possible for both reporters and the public.”
But as Politico reporter Tara Palmeri explained on Twitter, “To everyone asking why this matters: If Psaki doesn’t like your question, she doesn’t call on you.”
This sort of scripted, choreographed Beltway insider trading is exactly why populism emerged as a potent force in American politics: Voters don’t like those in power hiding in a bubble of inscrutable jargon and process.
Culture is created from the top. And that means the president himself is responsible for the lack of honesty and transparency. It’s getting so bad that even CNN, traditionally a Biden defender, has recognized it.
“I have never seen a president, covering the last four of them, who is so protected by his aides in terms of often not wanting him to answer some questions,” Jeff Zeleny, the network’s chief national affairs correspondent, told his colleagues on air in June.
Zeleny revealed he hadn’t seen Biden answer questions “without his aides screaming at him to stop.”
Biden’s aides flail when they see him go off script, and not just because of his embarrassing verbal faux pas. Even the liberal New York Times reported in June that “Biden walked back his stray remarks in a bid to salvage an infrastructure agreement.” Biden’s handlers in November scurried to reverse the boss’ embrace of $450,000 taxpayer payments to illegal immigrants who’d been separated from their families.
It’s no wonder a Politico poll released Wednesday found 49% of voters disagreed with the statement that “Biden is mentally fit.”
Americans aren’t buying the façade of competence Biden hopes to project by remaining aloof and inaccessible. More than a third of Americans — 37 percent — graded his first year in office an F while only 11 percent gave him an A.
Biden’s net favorability flipped in August — the month of the botched Afghanistan pullout. American citizens are still trapped there, plus thousands of courageous Afghan nationals who made themselves vulnerable to Taliban execution by helping US troops. He and his spokespeople evaded or simply lied when asked about these poor souls.
Hidin’ Biden might be able to avoid facing the press, but his congressional enablers can’t get around facing voters in November.