By:
March 26, 2021

Good Friday morning. As we close out another very busy week in media, let’s look back at some of the bigger media stories of the week as I offer my two cents on media coverage and stories, starting with Joe Biden’s first press conference.

Biden’s first press conference

President Joe Biden held his much-anticipated first press conference as president on Thursday and if you were waiting for some blockbuster news or earth-shattering moment, you likely were left disappointed.

As should have been expected, it was perfectly ordinary. Boring, even. Which is probably exactly the way Biden wanted it.

He answered questions about a variety of topics and answered them competently enough that it turned into your regular old ordinary presidential news conference. You know, like the kind we used to have before Donald Trump’s combative and chaotic ones.

How Biden did likely depends on your politics. Most seemed to think Biden did just fine. But, predictably, many of those who lean right picked apart Biden’s press conference in order to paint him as bumbling, stumbling and generally incompetent. That especially goes for some of the folks at Fox News, who practically lost their minds that Biden didn’t call on Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy to ask a question.

But how did the media do?

Well, here’s what Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin tweeted after it was over:

Biden: A
Press: D-

In her column for the Post, Rubin wrote, “Try as they might to seem ‘tough,’ the media did not succeed in knocking Biden off message. Biden spoke in great detail and length to show not only his mastery of the issues but also to suck tension and conflict out of the room.”

She also wrote, “The media did not distinguish themselves.”

In fact, the headline on Rubin’s column was, “Biden excels at his first news conference. The media embarrass themselves.”

The media did ask some solid questions, but in what ways did it drop the ball? Anita Kumar summed it up well in the opening two paragraphs of her piece for Politico:

During the first news conference of his presidency, Joe Biden was never asked about the defining crisis of this generation and, in all likelihood, his time in office.

Over the course of 62 minutes on Thursday, the Covid-19 pandemic never arose, except for in the president’s remarks at the start of the event, touting the accomplishments his administration has made in the U.S.’s yearlong fight.

She’s right. Zero questions about COVID-19 and more than one time-wasting question about whether Biden would run for president in 2024. He said yes. Of course he said yes. Even if he, deep down, has no plans to run, there’s no way he would ever admit to it, and thus be a lame-duck president with more than three-and-a-half years still left in his first term. What else could he possibly say? Besides, weren’t there more pressing topics at the moment than a presidential election that is years away?

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted, “There’s a reason to express concern about a president not doing press conferences, but no question on covid or specifics on gun control is hard to fathom.”

The White House argued that Biden is doing such a good job with COVID-19 that there is nothing for the press to ask.

So the virus didn’t come up. But other topics did, such as immigration, the filibuster and voting rights, foreign policy (especially around China) and infrastructure. According to tracking by CNN, immigration was the most-discussed topic, accounting for 19 minutes of the 62-minute press conference.

Before it even started, CNN’s Jake Tapper put it well when he called presidential press conferences “high stakes for every president. Low reward. And high risk.”

Turns out, Biden turned high risk into modest rewards. In the end, there were no eye-popping, jaw-dropping, head-scratching moments.

It was simple and routine enough that the media might not clamor for his next press conference as much as this first one. That doesn’t mean Biden shouldn’t do more press conferences. Of course he should.

But now we know, at least based on Biden’s first go-around, presidential press conferences likely will be filled with more information than fireworks.

Like they should be.

Other notable media thoughts as we wrap up the week …

Should have called on Doocy

Biden should have called on Fox News’ Peter Doocy just to avoid the criticism. If Doocy is legitimate enough to be in the room, he’s legitimate enough to be called upon.

As Fox News’ Dana Perino, a former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, said on air, “Why make Peter Doocy a story, right? Just take his question and move on.”

I agree with her. Although, it should be mentioned that Fox News wasn’t the only outlet snubbed. For example, The New York Times wasn’t called upon, either.

Willing accomplices

President Biden hadn’t even held his first press conference on Thursday when Fox News sent out a release saying former President Donald Trump would be appearing on Thursday night’s Laura Ingraham show and that the interview would include “reaction” to Biden’s first press conference.

Is this how it’s going to be? Fox News is going to dial up Trump every time there’s major news or Biden does something, as if Trump is supposed to weigh in on this stuff?

Surely, this delights Fox News audiences, probably produces decent ratings and keeps the network’s sycophantic relationship with Trump going strong. It’s also disappointing, although not at all surprising, to see Fox News so complicit as Trump breaks tradition and decency. Former presidents typically do not comment on current presidents, especially early in administrations. Why? Because in the wake of elections, especially hotly contested ones, the country is still divided. The months after a new president takes over are supposed to be a time for healing, not bitter second-guessing from the president who lost the election.

It’s not at all shocking that Trump is breaking that tradition, but it’s disconcerting to see Fox News playing along.

Another Cuomo controversy

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Good gosh, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo can’t get through a week without a controversy. This one is not nearly as serious as the numerous allegations of sexual misbehavior, but it’s causing a bit of a stink.

The Albany Times Union’s Brendan J. Lyons and The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Amy Brittain and Sarah Ellison first reported that last year, Cuomo arranged for family members and others close to him to have special access to coronavirus testing — access that the general public did not have. This all happened early in the pandemic when tests were hard to get.

Reportedly, Cuomo’s brother — CNN anchor Chris Cuomo — received the special access. In a statement, CNN spokesman Matt Dornic said, “We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees. However, it is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would.”

It’s not the crime of the century. And this is worse for Gov. Cuomo than Chris Cuomo because Gov. Cuomo was using state resources to benefit those close to him, as well as political allies. Still, it’s a bad look for Chris, too, who gushed on the air about his brother during interviews with him last year. It’s just another reminder of the conflict of interest involving Chris’ coverage of his brother.

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple has a much more critical take.

Locally speaking

A special shoutout to local journalists who covered the recent horrific shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. In particular, I’d like to call special attention to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera. The all-encompassing, detailed and tireless work was superb — and even more impressive knowing that newsrooms are still, for the most part, working remotely. The coordination and execution of a coverage plan while journalists were spread out showed just how talented these journalists are.

And, let’s not forget the emotional toll these stories can have. These journalists were covering a nightmare that was taking place in their community, knowing it could have been them or someone close to them who was cut down in these tragedies.

Must-see video

Have you seen Dana Carvey’s imitation of Joe Biden? He did it the other night on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and it was absolutely brilliant. Here’s the clip.

Media tidbits

A scene from this Sunday’s “60 Minutes” about robots that move like humans. (Courtesy: CBS News)

  • I’m looking forward to this Sunday’s “60 Minutes” and a feature on robots that move like humans. Anderson Cooper goes to Boston Dynamics for a rare look at this cutting-edge technology. Here’s an excerpt.
  • The New Republic announced Thursday that Michael Tomasky has been named its top editor. Tomasky is a columnist and editor at The Daily Beast and the editor of the quarterly Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. He will keep his role at Democracy. The New Republic also announced it was moving back to its original home in Washington, where it was based from its founding in 1914 until 2012. It has been based in New York City for the past nine years. Some business department staffers will remain in New York, while most of editorial will be in Washington.
  • The New York Times’ Peter Baker will serve as guest moderator on tonight’s Washington Week (8 p.m. on most PBS stations). He will be joined by panelists Kaitlan Collins (CNN), Zolan Kanno-Youngs (The New York Times), Sahil Kapur (NBC News), and Ashley Parker (The Washington Post). Topics will include Biden’s first press conference, immigration and gun control.
  • My Poynter colleague Kelly McBride’s latest column as NPR’s public editor: “NPR Standards Need More Clarity Around When To Name A Mass Shooter.”
  • On Thursday, Axios and Noticias Telemundo launched the Axios Latino newsletter — a weekly examination of key issues impacting the Latino community. You can sign up here.
  • An anchor at KIRO-TV in Seattle says she had to change her Cambodian name to get hired. KIRO Radio’s Rachel Belle has the details.
  • A public records situation that could be dicey in Texas. A combined effort by The Houston Chronicle’s John Tedesco and Jay Root and The Dallas Morning News’ Lauren McGaughy and Allie Morris in a story about Texas’ attorney general that you can find here in the Texas Tribune: “Ken Paxton refuses to release messages about attendance at pro-Trump rally before Jan. 6 insurrection.”

And finally, here’s some recommended weekend reading for you. See you again on Monday …

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
More by Tom Jones

More News

Back to News