Media Bears Responsibility for Biden Narrative

Despite the pandemic and economy being at the forefront of national concern, main stream media seems more intent on derailing Biden's First Press Conference.

Reporters were socially distanced due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and there was limited seating as US President Joe Biden held the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/via Getty Images)

Biden gave his first formal news conference yesterday and immediately the main stream media got it wrong. Nearly every major outlet started their coverage of the event by using the phrase, “first formal news conference since taking office,” which set the stage for mis-directed speculation on the delay, rather than a deeper exploration of the policies being presented.

Yesterday’s press conference (see video below) provided more of a glimpse into what kind of response President Biden will have to the many tough issues currently facing the United States in terms of temperament, rather than definitive strategy. Biden’s answers during the question session reveled that he is quite comfortable assuming his new role, thanks to those four decades in politics and eight years as vice president. Emphasizing the ease that Biden’s experience affords him was at the top of his list of things to relay to the American public, and Biden’s tone seemed to take precedence, as a newly established policy, in and of itself.

“I don’t know where you guys come from, man.” This was President Biden’s first response to a question he didn’t like. While it fits the president’s general demeanor, it felt slightly exaggerated to make a point — we won’t be having any more temper-tantrums to contend with at the POTUS podium. The casual nature in which Biden approached frustrating events also served another important purpose, in that it helped to add more context to his delay in approaching the press formally, and in letting let the media know that they are far from the most pressing issue on Biden’s to-do list.

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President Biden has had a few emergencies to contend with in the last few months. In his first 100 days, he has had to face a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and 10 million jobs. The president has had to contend with climate change, a reckoning in racial justice and an electorate that is profoundly divided. Within hours of his Inauguration, Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, rescinded the Trump Muslim ban and signed a torrent of executive actions.

Most importantly, Biden announced an ambitious plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days — a goal that was met on the 59th day of his administration — that he has now increased to 200 million. While many polls have recently been conducted to try and provide more access to the rabid need to know how many in the US believe Biden is the rightful president, large majorities of Americans want Biden and Congress to prioritize strengthening the economy and addressing the coronavirus outbreak this year.

Graphic of survey results involving 5,360 adults in the United States, who are members of the nationally representative American Trends Panel, conducted on Jan. 8-12, 2021. (Via Pew Research Center)

On Thursday, the questions that were asked by the media at the White House focused on immigration, foreign policy, the Senate filibuster, and Joe Biden’s political future. If you look at the graphic above, that depicts the issues most concerning the American public, you can see that some of questions asked yesterday did not make the list of the top 19 concerns for the public — and many that did were not even in the top ten.

The first question asked was about how the president plans to handle climate change, immigration reform, gun control and voting rights in the face of Republican opposition. All four massive topics were asked in one single question — there is no way to get any clarity or meaningful discourse with a question this broad. Considering that Biden had very recently made public statements on the need for gun reform, this was a completely missed opportunity to ask definitively how gun reform could best be achieved and what specifically would change moving forward.

Biden’s specialty is his experience, but the underlying focus for questions during his first press conference consistently centered around the issue of working with combative Republicans to achieve what he promised during his campaign. The questions posed yesterday would have been appropriate for a candidate who was still running, not one who had made specific promises and begun to work on delivering. No one thought to just accept the GOP roadblocks as a given and start out by asking Biden how he could maneuver around specific incidences — this would have made the question yesterday on the filibuster much more relevant to the briefing.

The most telling aspect of yesterday’s press briefing failure was that the fact checking of most of Biden’s answers revealed that they were truthful, but often needed more context. This is where the quality of the follow-up question from a journalist is essential — if Daniel Dale needs to write “mostly true, but needs more context,” you weren’t on your game, media.

President Biden answers questions during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/via Getty Images)

Choosing to focus on the lingering issues at the border, created by Trump, that Biden is now expected to fix at lightening speed, is also playing into the disinformation strategy of Republican pundits. Clearly it is an issue, but we have no indication that the Biden administration is not moving as quickly as possible. Also, if the media is going inadvertently help to sell conservative strategy, they need to commit to the task and really get to crux of their own questions.

Yesterday Biden claimed that "we're sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming." The number of families being sent back in February, according to public Customs and Border Protection, was comprised of 7,915 migrants, or roughly 41% of the 19,246 family-unit members. Where was the question or follow up asking President Biden if he had new data for March to justify a claim of over 50% or to lock down if he just mis-spoke? The same goes for the issue of children at the border — Biden appeared to conflate two separate statistics about children and migrant numbers in general, during his administration.

Biden gives a formal press conference on the 64th day of his administration, and takes questions about several subjects including: the coronavirus pandemic, immigration, gun control, voting rights, the future of the filibuster and if he will seek a second term. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/via Getty Images)

My support of President Biden is in no way hindered by my voracious instinct as a journalist to get the truth. If anything, pushing those we elect to be more precise with their words will benefit all of us, if we are aligned in the same goal to improve our society. Mistakes are not deal-breakers, but failing to hold politicians to their mistakes are — it is pivotal to hold elected leaders accountable, to see how they handle their mistakes and recover. This country cannot evolve and raise its own standards without this accountability dynamic being constantly utilized for the benefit of the American public.

Maybe main stream media is out of practice after years of attempting to make up a constantly shifting plan to cover the Trump administration, and spending more time on strategy for coverage versus demanding detail. I could respect that answer if journalists are still finding their footing in how they will adjust to new political coverage now that the White House seems to have resumed “regularly scheduled programming,” but Congress is still entrenched in “emergency, breaking news.” I can respect that answer this time, but only once. The idea of asking Biden about whether he will seek a second term was just a waste of time. It’s time for the mainstream media to go to work and up their professional game even more — just like President Biden has.


Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.

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