Biden ‘hot mic’ with Fox’s Doocy fuels speculation

Did President Biden have an accidental “hot mic” moment this week when he was heard insulting a Fox News reporter? Or did the president intend for his comments to be picked up?

A number of observers have speculated about the latter. They say Biden’s outburst is a tell that he is ready and willing to pick a fight with his sharpest critics as he enters the second year of his administration.

Biden was overheard on the hot mic Monday at the end of an event with reporters calling Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy a “stupid son of a bitch” for asking a question about the politically challenging issue of inflation. Doocy later said that Biden had called him to “clear the air,” saying it was “nothing personal.” 

The episode has since sparked intrigue in media and political circles about whether the hot mic accident was an intentional choice ahead of the midterm elections. 

“I personally believe it wasn’t a hot mic. He knew what he was doing, he knew he was on,” CNN’s Brian Stelter suggested on Tuesday “And then he had the manners to call later and try to mend fences. But it is still interesting to get inside the mind of the president.”  

Plenty of people disagree with that view.

Amber E. Boydstun, a professor of political science at the University of California, Davis, said she finds it hard to believe that Biden’s outburst at Doocy was premeditated or strategic. 

“It just doesn’t seem in his ethos or in any kind of longer-term best interest of the White House for him to use that specific expletive,” Boydstun said. “That just doesn’t track.” 

In a broader sense, Boydstun said it is feasible that the White House communications staff and Biden himself may have grown increasingly frustrated in recent months “walking on eggshells” when making public statements and dealing with the press, especially with the president’s approval ratings faltering and his legislative agenda stalled.

Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that regardless of whether the quip was intentional or not, the combativeness is off brand for Biden.

“Whether there is a tactical decision to be more publicly aggressive leading up to the midterms, I don’t know,” Grumet said. “It’s a pretty aggressive town these days.”

The Biden-Doocy affair does fit into a recent pattern.

Last week, Biden said “what a stupid question” in response to another Fox reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, who asked if the president was waiting for Russian President Vladimir Putin to make the first move amid tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

And late last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested that Americans who are concerned about the issues facing the country take “a kickboxing class” or “have a margarita,” to relieve stress. 

“My advice to everyone out there who is frustrated, sad, angry, pissed off: Feel those emotions. Go to a kickboxing class. Have a margarita,” Psaki said during an appearance on ABC’s The View. “Do whatever you need to do this weekend, and then, wake up on Monday morning. We’ve got to keep fighting.”

The comments were met with widespread backlash from conservative critics, who panned them as dismissive and out of touch. 

Megan Duncan, a journalism professor at Virginia Tech, said many potential voters have likely already made up their minds about how they view Biden lashing out at reporters. Many people who watch cable news broadcasts watch them to have their views underscored and not challenged.

“Audiences and commentators are very predictable seeing this comment through their own partisan lenses,” Duncan said. “The part that everybody here is gripping on is a debate we keep having nationally about civility and the way we should be treating each other as much as the context and content of that question.”

Biden was brusque with a New York Post reporter last week who linked his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings with transparency from China about COVID-19’s origins, and he dismissed a question from Newsmax on his mental fitness.

David Wilson, the dean of University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, said more tension could be seen between Biden and the media, including conservative outlets, depending on how they cover him.

“Only if Fox and conservative news outlets continue to ‘frame’ Biden in a personal way, attack his family members, and stand by while the country deals with problems. In terms of the media overall, I think there is indeed frustration with the media, as indicated by declining trust,” Wilson said.

But others still chalk up this week’s hot mic moment with Doocy to a simple human moment and not a part of a larger strategy.

“I don’t think this is the president being more aggressive with his tone, this is a person who had a human moment, he was frustrated,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. “We know the history around Peter and his questions and his dialogue towards and around this president.”