Fox's John Roberts says for media, no Biden-Putin presser is a loss

President BidenJoe BidenGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory READ: The .2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE's decision to not do a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIs Ukraine Putin's Taiwan? Democrats find a tax Republicans can support Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE following their high-stakes summit is understandable for reasons of politics and policy.

But for the media, there's no question it's a loss.

John Roberts, the veteran Fox News anchor and reporter who will be in Geneva for the historic meeting, said reporters will miss out on the signals that would be sent in public if the two leaders were to stand before the cameras. 

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That's what happened in 2018, when President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE faced enormous criticism for how he handled the bilateral meeting and public press conference with Putin after their own meeting. 

This year, Roberts said, will undoubtedly be different. 

“It will be really interesting to see the difference between what happened in 2018 and what will happen this year,” Roberts said during an interview with The Hill on Monday. “Now unfortunately, Biden’s not doing a joint press conference with Putin, so we won't be able to see the body language and the interactions between them in real time on a stage as we did with President Trump.” 

Biden explained over the weekend his decision against a joint press conference with the Russian leader is based on a hesitancy to create any opportunity for the meeting to be “diverted” by details of a public appearance of both leaders.

“I always found, and I don’t mean to suggest the press should not know, but this is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other,” Biden told reporters on Sunday. “It’s about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship are with Russia.” 

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Having been in the room when Trump and Putin met in 2018 in Helsinki, Roberts, who will anchor Fox News's afternoon program "America Reports" from Geneva, said body language and demeanor “really does tell a big story about the issues they talked about, the attitudes between the two leaders and the relationship between the two nations going forward.” 

“A lot of people would like to see how President Biden will handle himself standing next to Putin,” he said. 

Roberts said the White House in general is “really is trying to keep Biden under wraps to some degree.” 

“All the reporters he calls on are pre-determined,” he said of Biden's question-and-answer sessions with reporters. “It is such a sharp contrast to President Trump, who just loved these free-wheeling sparring events between journalists ... the access to Joe Biden is nothing to what it was to President Trump.” 

Roberts last traveled to cover the president on an overseas trip in February 2020, when Trump visited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad just days before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered daily life around the world. 

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In the context of an international summit with one of America’s top adversaries, Roberts said Biden’s decision not to hold a joint briefing with reporters is somewhat understandable but still “disappointing,” from a journalistic standpoint.  

“In some ways Biden is wise to probably not give Putin the forum that he would like to have,” he said. “But then at the same time I think the American people would want to see him sparring with Putin, to see the dynamic between the two men.” 

If Biden, like any front-facing world leader, wants to present himself as strong and capable, Roberts said, “you want to be able to stand beside the guy who’s giving you problems.” 

Surrounding Wednesday’s summit is growing pressure on Biden’s administration to hold Russia accountable for a series of ransomware attacks on U.S. companies, believed to be carried out by criminals based in Russia. 

“It’s big, because it’s the first meeting between a new U.S. president and the Russian president particularly at a time when relations are fraught with tensions,” Roberts said. “I don’t think it's going to be earth-shaking, but it will set the tone for the next four years, which is very important.”