Nearing his first full year in office, President Biden has conducted fewer news conferences than any of his five immediate predecessors at the same point in their time in the White House and has given fewer media interviews than six of them did, according to a story on Sunday.
The president has done 22 interviews with the media and held nine formal news conferences – six solo and three with visiting foreign leaders – an analysis by Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor at Town University and director of the White House Transition Project, found, the Associated Press reported.
Former President Ronald Reagan held fewer press conferences than Biden but events in his first year in office were scaled back after he was shot and wounded during an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. in March 1981 — just two months after he was sworn in.
Reagan did 59 interviews in 1981, the analysis shows.
Former President Donald Trump sat down for 92 interviews in his first year in the White House, mainly with Fox News, but also with ABC News, the New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters.
The 22 media interviews with Biden included one-on-one exchanges with reporters at the three major television networks, two CNN town halls, an appearance on MSNBC and three with regional television stations via Zoom, along with conversations with late night host Jimmy Fallon and ESPN’s Sage Steele.
Biden has only given three print interviews.
But the analysis found that the president more frequently fields questions during his public appearances than his predecessors, pausing to answer reporters’ queries before he boards Marine One when he’s coming or going from the White House and at photo-ops.
But the occasions don’t allow for robust questioning.
“While President Biden has taken questions more often at his events than his predecessors, he spends less time doing so,” Kumar told the AP. “He provides short answers with few follow-ups when he takes questions at the end of a previously scheduled speech.”
Biden’s lack of availability has often become a line of questioning at White House news briefings, and the White House Correspondents’ Association has called for the president to sit for more interviews and hold more press conferences.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that they don’t need an “embroidered cushion” to talk to Biden and disagreed that he shies away from taking questions at public events.
But those exchanges are often conducted under the whir of Marine One’s propellers and they allow the president to select whom he wants to call on.
“Fleeting exchanges are insufficient to building the historical record of the president’s views on a broad array of public concerns. We have had scant opportunities in this first year to learn the president’s views on a broad range of public concerns,” Steven Portnoy, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and a reporter for CBS New Radio, told the Associated Press.
“The more formal the exchange with the press, the more the public is apt to learn about what’s on the man’s mind,” he said.
Biden has answered questions at 55 percent of events where he delivered remarks or an address in his first year, more than Bill Clinton (48 percent) and Trump (41 percent).
That engagement, White House officials say, is proof of the administration’s commitment to openness.
“I think that we have been very transparent,“ White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “I don’t think you can just piecemeal and I think you have to look at it as a whole.”
But Brian Ott, a Missouri State University professor who studies presidential rhetoric, said Biden’s dearth of face time with reporters may hold the key to his plummeting job approval ratings.
It’s a decline that Biden might be able to turn around with more public engagement.
“The presidency has always been a predominantly rhetorical enterprise,” Ott said. “You can’t drive an agenda without vision casting and part of that has to go through the mainstream press.”