Biden’s First News Conference Is a Big Test for White House Reporters

From a Washington Post piece by media columnist Margeret Sullivan headlined “Biden’s first news conference is a test for him. But it’s an even bigger test for White House reporters.”:

The first news conference of a new administration is always a high-stakes affair for the White House.

How will the new president do under the glare of direct questioning from a crowd of correspondents? Will he utter a cringe-inducing gaffe? Will he actually make any real news?

But when President Biden steps to the lectern Thursday, the pressure will also be on the White House press corps, as reporters recalibrate after the tumultuous, misinformation-filled years of Donald Trump to a president who is far less showy and, to date, much more truthful.

It’s a major test for news organizations and reporters in covering Biden.

And Joe Lockhart, a press secretary under President Bill Clinton, fears the press corps won’t be able to resist walking in with the mentality of, “We’re gonna show all the MAGA people we can be just as tough on Biden as we were on Trump.”

There’s never a shortage of bluster at a televised White House briefing, but this week, it will almost inevitably center on the heated subject of immigration at the Texas border….

So far, our political press corps has been treating the issue with far more heat than light….

Witness the framing that NBC’s “Meet the Press” gave its coverage of the border situation — “a political crisis for the new president, with no easy way out,” Chuck Todd declared in his most serious voice.

So hot is the issue right now that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appeared on no fewer than five Sunday shows….

A recurring problem that Lockhart noted during the coverage of Trump’s coronavirus briefings: The reporters who knew the most about the subject were not the ones asking the questions.

Political reporters cover the president, and as knowledgeable and talented as they may be, they lack the expertise of science or health journalists — or in this case, longtime immigration reporters — who can best respond to what’s being said, which includes knowing how to challenge it with deep knowledge.

Instead of insight into the crisis, you get the political frame: How will it play with elected officials and their constituents? How will Trump’s allies play this story? What will Tucker Carlson have to say?

For the White House press corps, there’s also a temptation to play to the crowd. Every TV reporter has to be thinking about the 10-second clip of their question that might be used on Thursday’s newscast, establishing them as the star du jour who bravely challenged the president.

Journalists have been agitating for weeks for a first Biden news conference, noting that he’s kept us waiting longer than any other new president in decades. Trump and Barack Obama both held one within their first month in office….

It is important for the president to field questions directly from the news media….

What it shouldn’t turn into, though, is a performative exercise in equating two administrations, just to show how tough we are.

Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist. Previously, she was the New York Times public editor, and the chief editor of the Buffalo News, her hometown paper.

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