By:
June 7, 2021

Why doesn’t President Joe Biden give more press conferences?

I’m talking about real press conferences — you know, with a podium and reporters in seats asking detailed questions with follow-ups.

Since he has been president, Biden has done only one full-fledged press conference. He rarely sits down for big one-on-one interviews with a network bigwig such as Lester Holt or David Muir or Norah O’Donnell.

Why haven’t there been more?

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked that very good question by Brian Stelter on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” Her answer, however, was not quite as good.

Psaki seemed quite proud of herself when she unveiled this statistic: Biden spoke to the press 77 out his first 100 days as president.

“He takes questions several times a week,” Psaki said. “(He) is always, almost always, open to having that engagement with reporters. And I expect that will continue to be the case.”

That, however, is a deceptive answer. “Engagement” is not the same as a “press conference.” These times when Biden speaks to the press are usually at events where questions are shouted out and Biden gives short answers. They are nowhere close to a press conference. Psaki’s answer to Stelter seemed to suggest that Biden is available to the media, but that is not true. He has been seen, but not really available to answer questions in a substantive way.

It is true that Psaki is available most days, and gives full and detailed answers on behalf of the president.

But can’t we get more of the actual president?

Check out Stelter’s insightful interview with Psaki. It’s good insight into what it has been like for Psaki to be press secretary, starting with what it’s like to deal with outlets (Fox News and Newsmax, for instance) that often are at odds with the policies of this administration.

Psaki said, “My point of view, and more importantly, the president’s point of view, is that the story is not about me or a debate with news outlets. The story is about the plans of the administration and what we’re trying to project to the American people. And when he pledged to govern for all Americans, that means talking to a range of outlets — liberal, conservative, people who have different areas of interest. So that’s exactly what I try to do every day in the briefing room.”

However, Psaki made sure to point out, “I also have a responsibility not to allow the briefing room to become a forum for propaganda or a forum for pushing forward falsehoods or inaccurate information.

That often, however, can lead to a butting of heads. Psaki, in fact, has been known to challenge reporters on the premises of their questions, or ask “which people?” when a reporter starts a question with, “Some people are saying …”

“Well, I’m a human being,” Psaki said, “so even though every day I try to be completely even-keeled and always my objective per the president’s direction is to treat people with respect and take questions and provide accurate information — that’s my goal every day — but I’m also a human. And sometimes when you’re answering the question — the same question a tenth time, or when a question — more likely, the things that get under my skin are when the premise of a question is based on inaccurate information, misleading information — that can be frustrating. I try not to show it too much, try not to let people see me sweat too much. But occasionally I have a moment of humanity.”

Despite occasional friction between Psaki and the press, there’s no question that current White House press conferences are much more civil, informative and respectful than the press conferences during the Trump administration when the likes of Sarah Sanders and, especially, Kayleigh McEnany clashed with the media.

“They’re going to ask tough questions,” Psaki said. “They’re going to push me where they want more information. They want me to give more information. That’s their job. My job is to provide as much information as I can — the president’s point of view, what our policies are — to the American public. Sometimes I can’t provide every single detail of what’s happening privately because it’s a private negotiation or a private discussion or there’s a national security issue at play. You know, that’s a push and pull, but that’s a healthy push and pull, part of our democracy.”

It should be noted …

The White House press briefing room will return to 100% capacity today for the first time in 15 months when the pandemic forced social distancing. Journalists will still be tested daily, but only those who have not been vaccinated will be required to wear a mask.

Good pushback

Fox News’ Chris Wallace. (Olivier Douliery/Pool vi AP)

During “Fox News Sunday,” moderator Chris Wallace asked former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski about reports that Donald Trump is telling those around him that he will be “reinstated” as president in August. Lewandowski told Wallace he has talked to Trump many times and that possibility has never come up. He also said he knows of no provision in which Trump could be reinstated. Lewandowski then started talking about “election integrity matters” regarding the 2020 election and how the media didn’t cover one particular case when he claimed a dead person voted.

Wallace wasn’t having it. He said, “You keep blaming this on the media. The fact of the matter is this went to more than 60 different court cases and you were beaten in every one. The Supreme Court refused to even hear the Trump challenges. So please don’t blame this on the media. You had your day in court and you lost.”

On one hand, you can question even having someone like Lewandowski on to push baseless conspiracy theories. But, on the other hand, at least Wallace pushed back appropriately.

More from Wallace

Wallace also upset many Republicans last week when he stood up for Dr. Anthony Fauci when emails about the origins of COVID-19 were recently released.

“There’s no smoking gun there,” Wallace told Fox News’ John Roberts on air last week. “This is highly political. … You’re seeing it as a major talking point for Republicans.”

Wallace also said, “We ought to take the politics out of this. I think there certainly has been too much politics already.”

Wallace added, “When Donald Trump — back when he was president — suggested that China may have played a role in it, that it wasn’t a naturally occurring virus, I think there was a knee-jerk reaction from some Democrats, from some people in the media, to say, ‘Well, if Trump says this is a possibility, it can’t be a possibility,’ That was a mistake then, I think it’s a mistake now to overpoliticize it.”

Blunt talk from Blunt

During an appearance on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri was asked about Trump continuing to say the 2020 election was stolen. Moderator Chuck Todd asked Blunt if Trump actually believes this lie.

Blunt said, “I really can’t analyze whether he believes it or not. I’m sure he believes that in a fair election he couldn’t have possibly lost.”

Blunt quickly pointed out that the courts confirmed Trump’s defeat. Blunt also acknowledged Trump’s popularity in the Republican Party.

“I’d like to see him get focused on the 2022 election,” Blunt said.

Facebook’s ban on Trump

Donald Trump. (zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)

Facebook has determined that Donald Trump’s ban from its platform will last at least two more years. That decision came down on Friday. Trump will be eligible for reinstatement in January 2023 — hmm, just in time to gear up for the 2024 presidential election.

In a statement, Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg wrote, “At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.”

If and when Trump is reinstated, Clegg wrote there will be a “strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.”

Trump, of course, didn’t take the news well. In a statement, Trump called Facebook’s ruling “an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election.”

About Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Trump said, “Next time I’m in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. It will be all business!”

Reporting from Guatemala City

(Courtesy: NBC News)

Lester Holt will anchor tonight’s “NBC Nightly News” from Guatemala City ahead of his exclusive interview with Vice President Kamala Harris. Holt’s interview with Harris will air on Tuesday’s “NBC Nightly News.” Portions also will air Tuesday on the “Today “ show, as well as MSNBC, NBC News NOW and NBCNews.com.

Guatemala marks Harris’ first international trip as vice president to discuss with leaders on policies regarding migrants coming into the United States.

The return of Chris Matthews

Looks like NBC/MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has been let out of time out. You might recall Matthews left his MSNBC “Hardball” show in March 2020 after being accused of sexual misconduct by a guest on his show (journalist Laura Bassett).

Last week, Matthews appeared on Joy Reid’s “The ReidOut,” the show that ultimately replaced “Hardball.” Matthews also was a panelist on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

Matthews told Reid, “I did something wrong.”

During an appearance on ABC’s “The View” last week, Matthews said, “I owned up to it. I took ownership of it. I never said it was he said/she said. The reporting by Laura Bassett was correct. It was factual. It was great reporting, you might argue. I said it all was true. I retired. That was the decision I made.”

Matthews has a new book out called, “This Country: My Life in Politics and History.”

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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…
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