Joe biden is playing hard to get. He’s involved in an unrequited love affair: The media adore him, but he hates them. He routinely shows his temper in exchanges with reporters. He calls them names and demeans their profession. He snaps and complains at the first sign of dissent. The reporters shrug it off: Ha, ha, no harm done. His interruptions, insults, and bloopers don’t repel the White House press corps—they make ’em swoon.
The contrast between Biden’s relationship with the media and that of his predecessor couldn’t be more glaring. When Donald Trump was president, journalists cast themselves as Millennial Bob Woodwards and Zoomer Carl Bernsteins, valiant fighters for truth in a world darkened by lies. Now they are back to playing palace guard—for a king who wishes they’d just go away.
The 2020 campaign offered a preview of this tortured dynamic. Biden was on track to becoming the oldest president in American history, but his age was brought up only rarely. He’d been in national politics for half a century, yet his campaign was one of the least scrutinized ever. Biden’s strategy was obvious: Stay in the basement and let President Trump alienate independents and suburban voters through incessant exposure. The press was happy to help. It suppressed the revelations of self-dealing inside Hunter Biden’s laptop. It hardly commented on the radical agenda Joe Biden was planning in the event that he won.
A few individuals tried to ask the Democratic nominee some tough questions. Biden greeted them all the same way: He yelled at, lampooned, mocked, and was otherwise churlish to men and women who were just doing their job. In May 2020, when radio DJ Lenard Larry McKelvey, aka Charlamagne tha God [sic], asked Biden why black voters should support him, Biden replied, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Not for the last time, Biden was forced to apologize for his rude behavior. Hours later, speaking to the Black Chamber of Commerce, he took back his insulting remark. “I should not have been so cavalier,” he said. “I’ve never, never, ever taken the African-American community for granted. I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.”
No, he shouldn’t have been. But Biden didn’t learn the lesson. In August 2020, CBS reporter Errol Barnett asked him whether he’d taken a cognitive test. Biden grew enraged. “No, I haven’t taken a test,” he said. “Why the hell should I take a test? Come on, man. That’s like saying to you, before you got on this program, [did] you take a test where you’re taking cocaine or not. What do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?” Barnett is black.
Biden is inaccessible. He has limited interactions with the press. He answers just a handful of questions from a pre-selected list of reporters. He frequently relies on notes. Journalists often find themselves shouting at him, in the hopes that he’ll respond off the cuff.
This behavior clearly annoys Biden on two levels: He doesn’t like being yelled at, and he hates inconvenient information.
Last November, CBS correspondent Bo Erickson asked the president-elect, “Mr. Biden, the COVID task force said it’s safe for students to be in class. Are you going to be encouraging unions to cooperate more to bring kids back to the classrooms, sir?” Biden replied, “Why are you the only guy that always shouts questions?”
The media’s one-sided romance continued into Biden’s presidency. In March, PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor spoke for many of her colleagues when she told the president during a press conference that “the perception of you that you got elected as a moral, decent man is the reason a lot of immigrants are coming to this country and are trusting you with unaccompanied minors.” I’ve watched Hallmark movies less maudlin than Alcindor.
In May, Biden visited Cleveland. As is his habit, he dropped by an ice-cream shop. The press had the opportunity to ask him questions as he licked his cone. What was the first question he was asked outside Honey Hut Ice Cream? “Mr. President,” asked one grizzled, cynical scribe, “what did you order?”
“Chocolate chocolate-chip,” Biden replied. The crowd oohed.
If you are a reporter who asks Biden about something other than ice cream, chances are you will get a prickly answer. For example, around the same time as the Cleveland trip, Biden was test-driving a new pickup truck on the White House lawn. A journalist wanted to know whether he could ask the president about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. “No, you can’t,” Biden said. “Not unless you get in front of the car as I step on it.” That’s our Joe—making cracks about running over the Fourth Estate. What a joker.
In June, Biden traveled to Geneva for a pointless summit with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. After the meeting, Putin gave a press conference. Then it was Biden’s turn. After Biden wrapped up, CNN’s Kaitlin Collins asked him why he was “so confident” that Putin would change his malign behavior. Biden lost it. “I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior,” he said. “What in the hell, what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?”
Collins held her ground. She observed that Putin continues to deny Russian involvement in cyberattacks against America and continues to minimize human-rights abuses within Russia. “So,” she went on, “how does that amount to a constructive meeting?” Biden, fuming, said, “If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.” Then he left.
Once again, Biden had to issue a mea culpa. On the airport tarmac before boarding Air Force One and returning to the United States, he said, “I owe my last question an apology. I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave.”
But the problem is that Biden is a “wise guy” with every answer he gives. On July 2, Biden delivered some remarks about good job numbers. The White House reporters, though, wanted to ask him about Afghanistan, where the Taliban is running wild. Biden scoffed. “I want to talk about happy things, man,” he said. “Look, it’s the Fourth of July.”
A few weeks later, as he left the East Room after announcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal employees, Fox News Channel’s Peter Doocy asked Biden whether he recalled saying, “If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.” That wasn’t enough of a “happy thing” for Biden. “That is true at the time!” he shouted. “Because I thought there were people who were going to understand that getting vaccinated made a gigantic difference. What happened was, a new variant came along, they didn’t get vaccinated, it was spread more rapidly, and more people are getting sick. That’s the difference.”
But there isn’t any difference between the way Biden treats Fox’s Doocy and his high-handed rebukes of journalists who work for, shall we say, friendlier networks. On July 26, during a White House meeting with the prime minister of Iraq, veteran NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell asked Biden about a vaccine mandate for health-care workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “You are such a pain in the neck,” Biden said. “But I’m going to answer your question because we’ve known each other so long.”
O’Donnell didn’t flinch. “I take that as a compliment, Mr. President,” she said. Biden laughed. Yes, he told her, there would be a VA mandate. The wise guy must have been feeling generous.
Irritable, volatile, and often confused, Biden’s version of “normalcy” is to treat the press like spoiled brats. And because there’s a “D” at the end of his name, the press takes the negativity as an invitation to court him further.
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