Joe Biden had barely finished his acceptance speech on Saturday when journalists, tired and weary of four years of mean tweets, started congratulating each other. Jake Tapper was dropping ‘Bye Felicias’ on Twitter like a catty mean girl to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Jim Acosta could finally take a break. It was no longer a dangerous time to tell the truth in America.
Members of the national media seem to be under the impression that the result of the 2020 election was about them and their adversarial relationship with Donald Trump. Margaret Sullivan, writing at the Washington Post exhaled, ‘The media never fully learned how to cover Trump. But they still might have saved democracy.’ At ease, soldiers. Now that the golden era of fact checking is coming to an end, the Washington Post can retire their slogan ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’. Journalists everywhere will start circling their calendars for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Happy days are here again.
Over at CNN, media ombudsman Brian Stelter hailed a ‘restoration of normal relations between the press and the president’ by interviewing a Joe Biden press secretary who promised to be very nice. Biden spokes-kid TJ Ducklo told Stelter that ‘the media’s job is to hold [Biden] accountable. He is there to do the people’s work. And, you know, he welcomes that relationship. He welcomes their role, the media’s role in our democracy.’ Stelter nodded along without mentioning the time Biden’s people shoved a reporter into a broom closet for an event, or the mass abuses of reporter spying that happened under the last administration Joe Biden was a part of. But at least the tweets are stopping.
There are some troublesome rumblings in media-president paradise, however. Journalists began wondering out loud if press access to President-elect Joe Biden might ease up a little now that the campaign was over. ABC News correspondent Jon Karl wondered if Biden would ‘begin immediately to hold regular press briefings. They haven’t done that as a campaign’. Ryan Lizza, Politico’s chief Washington correspondent noted some ‘discouraging signs about the Biden team and press access so far: no regular transition briefings, no readouts of calls with foreign leaders (as noted by @AlxThomp in pool report today), no open press access to the candidate and his people. This is a break with tradition.’
FACT CHECK CONTEXT: it is not a break with tradition, if the tradition is the Biden campaign not holding press briefings or offering press access to the new President-Elect. Biden was allowed to skate through the entirety of the general election campaign with scarce press conferences and briefings. Professional journalists such as Jon Karl remained quiet during it all. Now that he’s won the White House, why would he or his people change anything?
Biden faced little to no pressure to say what his broad agenda would be as President on hot-button issues such as court packing. He willfully told the media he would not even entertain questions about it, and for several weeks our national media nodded along and accepted his non-answers. Biden was able to glide into the White House while watching the national media and Trump slap-fight each other. He will be happy to keep gliding as President. But how long will the media play along?