The mood in the White House has changed.
The White House press corps, happy with the low death threats, happy with the return to the daily briefings that include endless insults and drama, and comforted by a new president who routinely addresses journalists Not “fake” news “or” enemy of the people “who was very happy with Biden.
It had little time to crawl to reduce tensions with the free press – and that’s what its management did. Now, nine months later, it is painfully clear that the Biden administration will do much more than that – crawl very rarely.
The briefing is helpful. But covering the press secretary is not the same as covering the president. The president needs to answer questions before the press. A full press corps needs to be present on a regular basis to see if the president can handle the rigors of his job. Biden has held only one press conference at the White House since taking office – and because of the COVID restrictions that preceded a small number of poll reporters.
Meanwhile, the Brady Briefing Room has reopened and there are often more than 60 people in a room with only 49 seats. The East Room, the venue for several previous presidential press conferences, and the largest room in the White House have not been fully reopened. We are routinely told that epidemic restrictions limit the number of reporters allowed there (less than allowed in the Brady Briefing Room), and thus continue to hold lotteries for access to the White House East Room. There is no transparency about who they choose. There, when the President addresses.
Last Friday, Biden spoke to the press twice, without question. For the first time, Eisenhower was in the auditorium of the executive office building – in which hundreds of reporters could easily sit, even in spite of social distance. The second time, Biden spoke from the North Lawn in front of the East Room – outside. Later that day, Biden opened another outdoor event. Someone Reporter on campus, but speech on North Lawn was once again restricted by “COVID restrictions.”
It was just a lie.
If you ask a reporter or technician who has covered more than two administrations, you will find that Biden’s administration is routinely called “very strange” and “controlling.” This administration clearly does not want us to observe or talk to the President in a regular and strong manner.
One thing we see is the health of the president. During their two camera meetings on Friday, I saw Biden coughing and sniffing. I didn’t suspect anything offensive, but he’s a man in his late 70’s, and the people he represents have a right to know if he’s healthy. I can’t observe freely because I rarely see it. But looking at her behavior on Friday, I asked Press Secretary Jane Sackie if she could allay any concerns before anyone blew her away. She told me she had an allergy.
Then, at the end of Friday afternoon, the open press gathered for Biden’s departure. A wheelbarrow led us through the doors of the palm room. As we approached Rose Garden, we came to a line of ropes behind which we would see Biden being dropped off in a presidential helicopter.
As I walked down the sidewalk to the rope line, I looked to my right, as some other photographers did. We saw the president in the Rose Garden with the service members, the couple and their children. It happened by chance. It was unplanned. I know this because the Secret Service was telling us to stop where we were, while Biden’s quarrels were trying to pull us off the ropes, out of sight of the President.
I listened to the boys carry guns and I stopped. At that moment, Biden approached me and offered me a unique opportunity to talk to the children and take pictures of them. I tweeted the photo a few minutes later:
More than 2 million people have seen this tweet, and more than 380,000 people have interacted with it. That is why the president should talk more with the press and not less because his inner circle preaches.
It’s not always about questions or answers. Sometimes it’s about seeing the president as a human being, and being able to relate to him. People want and want it. For some, that feeling means more than the president’s policy decisions. More importantly, it sometimes forces voters to accept policy decisions that they otherwise oppose. People want to connect with their president and see him as a human being.
If the White House does not make the president humane, he is seen as cold, distant and careless. He is going to be criticized in any way. Both Trump and Biden have been praised and criticized for interacting with children in the White House. But I assure you that the American people desperately need to identify with their President.
The Biden administration says it has a lot to do with the press. Media critics condemn us for asking stupid, ignorant or meaningless questions – so why should we have access?
I’m not sure that’s a bad question. The story of a young reporter who asked former first lady Betty Ford a “stupid question.” She asked him if his children had ever drunk pot. Most veteran reporters thought it was a stupid question until he answered: “Yes.” You never know what someone will say in response to your question, as the late, legendary. Helen Thomas. Often reminded me, just ask questions. Thus they cannot deny that they have ever been asked.
I don’t like everything others say, but it’s not my job to decide. My job is to find out what the President of the United States is doing. He wants to do his best and I want to see if he is really doing what he claims to be doing. There is natural tension.
Trump responded by trying to get the press out. He pulled my press pass, as well as Jim Acosta, and into the White House as much as he could. Biden embraces the press, but he is far more limited in his dealings with us – which makes him as professionally frustrating as Donald Trump, although so far he has been personally less upset.
But the honeymoon is really over. Press pundits and analysts are all talking about how bad Biden is. That’s partly because he doesn’t communicate with people – because the White House staff doesn’t let him go. His communication team strictly limits his appearance, and as a result the administration becomes arrogant, elite and controlling. The picture I tweeted and the answers to it undoubtedly show that there are a lot of people who want to respond to Biden in the best way possible.
A quarrelsome person told me that he did not want me to be close to the president. I replied that he always answers my questions when I am – and was told that is why they do not want me there. The staff is afraid of what some of us will ask him, and what the answers will be. One of the by-products that is hidden from the outside is that the press poll and some others feel special because of their proximity and accessibility.
Bullying is easy to deal with. A smile, a passionate hug and a slatto in the back are a little harder to match.
According to a recent CBS poll, only 10% of voters can tell you what the president’s bloodback is on a better agenda. Paid family vacation? Child tax credit for the working class? Low drug prices? Very few people know. It is also a side effect of limited interaction with the public. While many Trumpliners will probably support many of Biden’s agendas, the lack of opinion polls of the president and the fact that many Americans do not even know what he is actually proposing is a new interest in Donald Trump. I’m participating and what’s left in the Republican Party as we go through a crucial midterm election cycle.
“The best hope for the rational remnants of the GOP is to unite with the Democrats to defend American institutions.” Guest article for the New York Times.
As it turns out, Republicans are better at messaging than Democrats – even when they support Democrats.
The threat of fascism has increased in the country since the defeat of Donald Trump last November. It has strengthened a movement that sees itself as both a winner and a victim.
And every day, Biden and the Democrats show that they have a long way to go to counter this slow-moving uprising.