Joe Biden has held the fewest press conferences and interviews of any president since Ronald Reagan. And now we’ve learned that when he is allowed to take questions, they appear to be pre-selected, approved by White House staff and agreed to by reporters in the White House pool.
Yesterday, while appearing alongside South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol, Biden fielded a question from Courtney Subramanian of the Los Angeles Times. A photojournalist captured a notecard in Biden’s hand that showed an avatar of Subramanian, the words “Question 1” and a pre-written text of the question she asked the president.
So how does a question from a White House reporter make it to the president of the United States’ hands before she even asks it? One would think the White House itself, most likely the comms shop that works directly with them, has to be involved making preselection demands of reporters. Then reporters would have to be willing to go along with this, which violates all sorts of long-standing ethics about speaking “truth to power.” Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted, “No WH reporter would ever tell me what question they intended to ask POTUS. It would be unethical — not to mention soft — to do so.”
This should be a legitimate scandal for this White House, as they try to push an eighty-year-old president onto the country for a second term while it appears he cannot answer questions without a cue card. Subramanian should explain who at the White House she’s coordinating with, and her bosses at the LA Times should say something, too. Yet so far, no explanation has been offered. Subramanian herself is refusing to answer inquiries and the LA Times has simply gone silent on the matter. The White House isn’t accountable, either, because they are clearly in cahoots with the people who should be holding them accountable.
If reporters are openly coordinating with this White House to help shape a positive narrative for President Biden — something widely suspected but never as directly proven as it was yesterday — then this is cause for a legitimate crisis of confidence in an industry meant to hold powerful people responsible. During the Trump administration, the public was browbeaten over just such a scenario.
This incident goes beyond Subramanian or this White House and affects every reporter in the briefing room and their colleagues — who appear to retain very little professional respect for what their job is and why they are supposed to be sitting in that chair in the first place. It’s their silence, and their lack of accountability, that suggests this isn’t just a random one-off thing that happened to keep this president focused and preventing him from wandering off again only to be corraled by a staffer in an Easter Bunny costume.
Reporters, starting with Courtney Subramanian and the LA Times, can either answer for this or sit and watch as distrust in their industry rises to new levels every week. As they portray themselves as heroic truth-tellers, their actions have proven them to be nothing but narrative-pushers for an unpopular president who seems to need his hand held at every step: both by his own staff and the shameless journalists going alone with the charade.