The White House press corps is in a snit again because President Biden, who many reporters openly cheered on in last year’s election, has stiffed them repeatedly, refusing to answer their questions and - most recently - and tossing them unceremoniously out of the Oval Office.
Indignant, the White House Correspondents Association filed a protest with the administration’s communications office, where it will be routinely acknowledged and routinely ignored.
Given Biden’s successful campaigning from the basement of his home in Wilmington, Del., last year while the nation was in the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, his strategists concluded the same approach could be applied with equally favorable results in the White House.
It appears the president’s senior staff reached a judgment that minimizing interactions between the president and reporters is in his best interest. The likelihood of change in the face of media complaints no matter how well founded is nonexistent.
The risk of offending the press corps is well worth it when placed next to the possibility of the president straying off message, rambling, forgetting names of his cabinet officers and foreign leaders, careening off on a rhetorical tangent and telling tales about his various life experiences which his staff later must clarify or walk back.
As harsh as it may sound, a nervous White House staff believes Biden simply cannot be trusted if engaged in freewheeling exchanges with reporters.
They’ve implemented a protective protocol of controlled presidential remarks, usually read from a teleprompter to a sparse audience of reporters or from behind the Oval Office desk.
On those infrequent occasions when questions are permitted, Biden recognizes reporters from a staff supplied list, a departure from the raise your hand systems followed by previous administrations. The time is limited in these sessions before a communications office staffer declares it at an end.
The strategy is reflected also in the frequency of the “no public schedule” notation on the daily list of activities distributed to reporters and by the early in the day announcements of a “lid,” meaning no newsworthy events are planned.
Make no mistake, the priority obligation of a presidential staff is always to him. The first rule drilled into them is “protect the client.” The obligation to the media comes second and, if that translates into shielding him from the media, so be it.
Given Biden’s long history of exaggerations, embellishments and personal reminisces which turn out to be stream of consciousness creations, his staff is hyper-sensitive to speculation about a cognitive decline and a diminished ability to grasp complex domestic or foreign policy issues.
There is, of course, no requirement for a president to grant regular access to the media or respond to questions as part of a public appearance. It is rather an expectation that part of the chief executive’s job description is utilizing the media as a vital conduit to the American people.
This administration has chosen to limit his exposure, preferring the daily press briefing - often including a cabinet officer, depending on the issue at hand - as the less risky method of delivering the message, framing the narrative and satisfying the media’s appetite.
The White House press corps has arguably the most prestigious and coveted assignments in journalism, spending every day of their professional lives at the nerve center of American government and global concerns, flying on Air Force One, witnessing history in the making and sharing their views on television talk and panel shows.
They don’t, however, get to dictate working conditions or make demands on the Administration whose actions they cover. Play the hand you’re dealt rather than whine you want different cards.
Despite unprecedented changes in the media landscape, some of the most incisive, insightful and analytical commentary is still produced by reporters and broadcasters who use their talents and dedication to ferret out information on behalf of the American people.
It is their duty to aggressively challenge misrepresentations and falsehoods and expose them.
Continuing to meet that responsibility will do more to enhance their reputation than complaining they don’t see the president as often as they’d like.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail