It’s Public Political Philosophy, Not Public Policy.
Media Relations Meltdown
The regime’s PR posture reveals weakness and insecurity.
On Tuesday, January 24, as the press was customarily being shouted at and physically coerced to leave a room at the White House, one exchange generated headlines because of the president’s departure from all pretense of decorum. Fox News White House reporter Peter Doocy tried to get a response from the president as the White House PR staffers screamed over everyone. The question was about inflation. He specifically asked President Biden if he thought inflation was “a political liability” in the run-up to the midterm elections.
The White House PR team was shouting so much that Doocy never heard the president’s response, but a hot mic did, and now so have millions of Americans. The president said, “What a stupid son of a bitch,” before the White House PR team was able to cut the president’s mic. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins later reported that the president called Doocy personally, to apologize for the gaffe. As Doocy told Sean Hannity on Fox News, Biden said, “It’s nothing personal, pal.”
To be sure, Biden is not the first president to have an antagonistic relationship with at least a few members of the press. But here’s what’s different now.
The White House PR team, starting with the Biden campaign PR team in 2020, has normalized the practice of shouting down reporters and physically and abruptly rushing them out of the room and away from their “principal.” They have done little to disguise their purpose and motivation. They have even done this without warning, seconds into a triggering question from a reporter.
They are obviously afraid that Biden will say something they all regret. They are afraid he will face a question he can’t answer and look even more incompetent, blustering, and callous than he already does.
They have obviously weighed the pros and cons and decided that the majority of the press will go along to get along…with them. To the few members of the press corps that seem in any way perturbed by this new media relations practice, well, they don’t matter.
This practice of bullying the media on the world’s biggest stage is belittling and humiliating to journalism as a profession, and yet the press corps, en masse, pretends it’s not happening, like an abuse victim living in denial.
The decline of the fourth estate
This is quite a drop for a profession that for so long has regarded itself as the obstreperous fourth leg of a democratic society.
The news media prides itself on checking on government power through awareness and transparency. This is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of the press. The framers assumed that a free press might be skeptical of those in power, not aligned with them.
Still, according to a Gallup Poll in 2021, Americans’ trust in the news media has dropped four percentage points from 2020 to just 36 percent of those polled who say they trust the media.
Just seven percent of U.S. adults say they have “a great deal” of trust in the news media, and only 29 percent have “a fair amount” of confidence. On the flip side, 29 percent of Americans say when it comes to the news media, there is “not very much” trust. A whopping 34 percent say they have no trust at all in the news media. That’s a total of 63 percent of Americans that do not trust the media for the most part.
Enemy of the people
In 2016, political operatives and their allies in the progressive news media introduced the idea of “fake news” when describing how social media was alleged to have been rigged to favor candidate Donald Trump in the presidential election. The claims were used to discredit both the digital media platforms and the candidate.
What they didn’t count on was the candidate’s ability to co-opt the term and turn it around on them, declaring the mainstream media as the real “fake news,” and fake news as the “enemy of the people.”
Strategically, Trump ran a successful campaign against the news media and Hillary Clinton, in that order. He won on the strength of this candidacy, the power of his attacks, and an already declining trust in the mainstream media.
Ironically, the whole time he attacked the press and throughout his presidency, Trump maintained an open door to the media and provided unprecedented accessibility and transparency.He talked to the press constantly, and took questions from them all the time.
What he understood was that even through an antagonistic relationship with the media, he could deliver his message to the most people in the shortest period of time, and that the public would be able to discern what was true and what was not simply through the volume of information and messaging they were receiving. Trump forced the news media to report on him to get his message out.
By contrast, the Biden White House has opted to try to limit and control every tidbit of information that gets out. It appears to reward reporters who follow the approved narrative, and punish those who stray from it.
The recent scrums that break out at most media photo ops involving Biden these days only highlight the fact that no matter how persistently and aggressively the White House tries to control the reporting of a very subservient press corps, it’s still not working.
The new normal?
So, is this the new norm of press relations?
No, and it never will be. This is an exceptional time. The risks of Biden going rogue are simply so great that the regime is willing to accept the hit to its credibility until at some point they can put forth someone else who’s capable enough to deal with the news media. Biden, clearly, is not.
This current media relations style is unsustainable because it makes the White House look rude and unprofessional. But more importantly, it makes the administration look weak and insecure, not only to the remaining serious news organizations and to the public, but to America’s allies and adversaries around the world.
Media relations is a public relations sub-discipline that rarely rises to any level of national or international significance. This time is different. The way in which this White House handles press relations gives the entire game away.
We have a chief executive incapable of fielding routine questions from reporters in the normal course of affairs. We have a PR team that breaks all of the rules of professionalism. And we have a news media that continues to show its soft, compliant underbelly to the world. It’s all embarrassing.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.