Over 530,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Millions have been infected, with thousands more added to the rolls each day. Over 100 million doses of vaccine have been delivered in large part thanks to President Biden utilizing the Defense Production Act after his predecessor hemmed and hawed and played down the virus, sometimes arguing that it wasn’t even real.
Given the chance to question — even grill — arguably the most powerful leader of the world on this and related topics, the White House press corps… didn’t. It’s not that they declined to ask President Joe Biden about an esoteric angle on the pandemic that has affected the lives of every person on the planet, but rather that they didn’t ask him about it at all. Not a single question broached the topic of the virus, the fallout, or the response, even after Biden began the event by discussing his goal of 200 million shots by the 100th day of his presidency.
It was probably the most telling data point about the press conference, which was hyped up by Republicans who made bad-faith complaints about the timing of the event, reliably amplified by the mainstream media who cowers beneath the right’s withering glances.
Horserace And GOP Talking Points Were The Focus
To add insult to injury, the issues the press corps fixated on were mostly laughable. CNN and CBS teamed up to ask Biden about the 2024 election and his decision whether or not to run with Vice President Harris at his side, surely a topic that Americans concerned about confronting a killer virus are staying up nights worrying about. When they weren’t asking about their favorite topic – horserace politics – the press corps was asking questions that seemed as if they were dreamed up by Ronna McDaniel and Stephen Miller on immigration.
Prompted by hate groups, the right has seized on immigration as the silver bullet to their midterm chances, and the press corps played their role with their questions to Biden, a series of loaded “when did you stop beating your wife” inquiries that led Biden to question the seriousness of his interrogators.
“That’s a serious question, right?” Biden asked with an uncharacteristically sarcastic delivery.
And of course, as is now standard for these things, even before they are completed, the press was in a full-on orgy of self-congratulation over the horrendous job they had done. Axios retweeted Slate praising CNN, in an exchange which was then retweeted by a CNN anchor. It’s all a little like the horror film “Human Centipede,” but more gross in the manner with which the media hails its own noxious waste as the best gold that has ever been seen.
The entire spectacle once again validated the argument from many – including myself – that the White House press corps and its ridiculous events and ceremonies has long since outlived its usefulness.
The Public Does The Press Corps Job Better
Early in his presidency, Biden faced the public at a town hall put together by CNN, and the questions he faced there were far more incisive and probing than the paid professionals in their secure correspondent positions. And it wasn’t as if those questions were the stuff of fanboys and fangirls, asking sycophantic queries about how great Biden is or perceived to be (as we saw so often when Trump was “questioned” by his nighttime phone pal Sean Hannity on Fox News). They were real questions, pushing Biden to explain how, exactly, he would deliver on his many campaign promises.
When the pros got their shot after haranguing the Biden team for their shot, they wasted it and came up limp.
It’s the same way they’ve been coming up limp for decades, failing to seriously interrogate either presidents or press secretaries for either party. There’s a reason why the beat rarely breaks any true news that hasn’t been stage-managed by communications professionals. There’s a reason why the press corps was an easy delivery vehicle for George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer to promote lies about WMD, for President Obama to brush off his shoulders as they reeled from his tan suit, for Trump to blow over as he yelled at them for being the “enemy of the people.”
They are useless. They are not informing the public, and they’re not doing worthwhile journalism. Regurgitating Republican talking points and cowering before GOP presidents and press secretaries is no way to run a Fourth Estate.
No, They Won’t Learn. They Never Do
If I had more faith in these men and women I would advise that they sit down and think about what they’ve done, what they did, and what (if any) value they are adding to the world. But they have shown us time and time again they don’t care about that. They’re very busy holding back the few new things that they do learn at the White House for inclusion in their books, vivid little tales they can dole out on book tours rather than informing the public when they had a chance.
They’re really concerned about the annual Correspondent’s Dinner, when they can play dress-up and hang out with celebrities and gush about the people they’re supposed to be covering (Democrat or Republican). They’re also very worried about bending over backwards to right-wing press critics to demonstrate their bonafides: “Look ma, I’m not a left-wing shill, ain’t you proud of me, ma?”
Unlike most of us, the White House press corps doesn’t want to learn from its mistakes so it can do better in the future. It just wants endless praise, nonstop cheering for a half-assed job, in the most charitable description of the mess.
What an absolute waste. And it will be the just the same next time, if not worse.