Joe Biden sat for an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday to talk Afghanistan and Covid-19 – among other things. The real news in the interview, however, was that Biden was doing it at all.
The Stephanopoulos interview was only the 9th one Biden has done with a media organization since being sworn in as president seven months ago, according to statistics kept by longtime CBS Radio reporter Mark Knoller.
Which, again according to Knoller, is far – FAR – behind the pace that Biden’s two predecessors gave interviews in their first term. Barack Obama had given 133 interviews by this point in his first term while Donald Trump had done 50.
Which is pretty shocking – especially when you consider that Biden’s first seven months have been hugely momentous – from the trillions in additional government spending passed through Congress to deal with the coronavirus to the national vaccine rollout to, of late, the disaster (and humanitarian crisis) in Afghanistan.
This is, of course, on purpose. As Politico noted back in April:
“Three months in, Joe Biden’s White House has settled on a firm press strategy: First, do no self-harm.
“The president is not doing cable news interviews. Tweets from his account are limited and, when they come, unimaginably conventional. The public comments are largely scripted. Biden has opted for fewer sit down interviews with mainstream outlets and reporters. He’s had just one major press conference — though another is coming — and prefers remarks straight to camera for the marquee moments. The White House is leaning more heavily on Cabinet officials to reach the audiences that didn’t tune into his latest Rose Garden event.”
Biden defenders make the point that he has faced historic challenges – and that is his time is best spent solving problems rather than talking to then media.
Which, well, OK.
But every politician – including Biden – knows that the dealing with the media is part of the gig. And while Biden doing somewhat fewer interviews might be able to be explained away, doing roughly 15 times fewer interviews with the media than Obama at this time is pretty nuts. Fifteen times!
The real reason probably isn’t a single reason. It’s a combination of things, including:
* Top White House aides are skeptical of the ability of national news organizations to drive news cycles or, more importantly, persuade undecided voters.
* Biden isn’t itching to do these sorts of interviews, thereby relieving pressure on his staff to set them up.
* The interview format isn’t Biden’s best as he tends to be at turns a) defensive and b) rambling into territory that his staff would rather not he go into.
There may well be other reasons too. But whatever the reasons, it’s quite clear that Joe Biden and his administration have made a very conscious choice to not spend much of his time giving interviews to national outlets.
That is – whether you agree with that strategy or not – a gamble. Putting Cabinet secretaries on Sunday shows and in other national formats is fine but it’s not the same thing – nor will it draw anywhere near the attention – of having the President do these sorts of things.
To date, Biden hasn’t suffered terribly for his lack of interviews with the national media. Polls mostly showed a majority of the American public approving of the job he was doing – especially in dealing with the coronavirus.
But more recently, his numbers have begun to falter – across the board. And with the Afghanistan nightmare playing out on American TV screens as well as the still-surging Delta variant, there may be reason for Biden and his team to reconsider his press aversion.