Saved by the Easter Bunny: Biden questions are increasingly unproductive

The Easter Bunny confirmed what most of the nation already knew — nobody should ask questions of President Biden. At the recent White House Easter Egg Roll, the Bunny whisked Biden away when a journalist asked an impromptu question.

When the Easter Bunny has to be enlisted to run presidential interference, the game is clearly over.

The White House’s walk-back machine was in overdrive last month when Biden visited Europe. In the span of just a few hours, administration handlers were walking back the president’s remarks about chemical weapons, a misguided statement about where the 82nd Airborne might be deployed, and possible regime change for Russia. With a shooting war in eastern Europe, rhetorical missteps are not excusable gaffes, but potentially history-changing blunders.

It happened again after Biden’s brief Ukraine armaments speech Thursday. Immediately after the president’s formal remarks, reporters began shouting questions. Biden agreed to take “just one or two questions” because he said he had a plane to catch, as though Air Force One might take off without him. He eventually answered four questions, one literally as he was exiting the room, but the answers were generally unhelpful. In fact, the White House had to issue a statement of clarification moments later because the President had uttered confusing remarks about Title 42 and the Justice Department’s appeal of mask mandates for public travel.

Journalists on the White House beat are programmed to challenge every president with tough questions at every opportunity. After all, reporters serve as surrogates for the public, and average Americans don’t have the access to make such inquiries. Reporters shout questions at the president every time he is within earshot, at journalist “pool sprays,” after scripted remarks, and as he departs or arrives at the White House.

That practice of lobbing questions is becoming more unproductive, confusing and sad than ever — particularly when there’s an answer.

No American — on the ideological right or left — should take any satisfaction from this state of affairs. The stark reality — based on White House press office actions — seems to be that nobody can put much stock in what Biden says in unscripted moments. It’s even money at this point that anything he says off-script will be undone or “clarified” later by White House spinners.

Biden’s oratorical deficiencies aren’t exactly new. Even while running what amounted to a stealth campaign in 2020, he surfaced in public enough to ask a reporter if he was a junkie and to suggest to another interviewer “you ain’t black” if he didn’t vote for Biden. He also called a citizen questioner a “lying dog-faced pony soldier.”

One might argue Biden’s just being Biden, but the “clarifications” have come so thick and fast, at this point it seems fair to ask what good can come from having Biden answer journalists’ questions at all.

The White House has tried its best to shelter the president, severely limiting access to him in one-on-one interviews and pressers. Press Secretary Jen Psaki tried to bluff CNN+ reporter Chris Wallace about how accessible Biden has been, but Wallace pushed back fairly with evidence to the contrary, and Psaki came off as “Baghdad Bob.” White House handlers have tried to create a mirage, but the losing effort has run its course.

Jeffrey M. McCall is a media critic and professor of communication at DePauw University. He has worked as a radio news director, a newspaper reporter and as a political media consultant. Follow him on Twitter @Prof_McCall.

Tags Biden Easter Bunny Joe Biden gaffes Presidency of Joe Biden press conference questions walk back

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