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JOE BIDEN doesn’t do many off-the-record chats with reporters. So the traveling White House press corps was surprised and intrigued when the president dropped by Air Force One’s press section for one such session with them during a recent trip to the West Coast.
But Biden wasn’t just there to field questions. He had his own message to deliver. According to multiple people familiar with the off-the-record session, he used much of his time with reporters to criticize the quality and tenor of press coverage of his administration.
There is growing frustration by the president and his family that he is not receiving the kind of generally more positive coverage they believe he deserves — that too often attention is focused on staff turnover and poor poll numbers and not a robust jobs market and America’s relatively strong economic recovery.
In addition to privately pushing reporters, the president and his team are also trying new tactics to change the prevailing storylines. Among them is an attempt to reframe the narrative around issues like inflation. His team published opinion pieces in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal in recent days under the president’s byline, attempting to share his foreign policy vision and path to lowering costs for consumers.
The White House has also recently leaned into the use of celebrities to help carry its message. Visits from Korean pop group BTS and Oscar-winning actor MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY have resulted in major boosts in earned media. Within minutes, a late-night video of the president and BTS discussing recent violence against Asians was one of the president’s top performing posts, and McConaughey’s emotional plea in the White House briefing room for measures to reduce gun violence similarly received millions of views on YouTube. On Wednesday, the president will stop by “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” for his second appearance on a late-night show since taking office and his first one in-person.
But that taped interview also spotlights just how few he’s actually given. For much of his presidency, Biden hasn’t spoken to many writers and columnists off the record other than occasional outside adviser JON MEACHAM.
He hasn’t done a sit-down interview with The New York Times’ or Washington Post’s non-opinion sections since taking office, a departure from his former boss BARACK OBAMA, who regularly gave one-on-ones to the Times during his first year. Biden has similarly shut out major wire services like The Associated Press and Reuters. Though he’s given a handful of interviews to the major networks, he still hasn’t conducted a one-on-one with CNN (though he’s done several town hall appearances).
“I can’t think of a parallel situation – it’s the fifth president I’ve covered and the first one I haven’t interviewed,” said PETER BAKER, The New York Times’ chief White House correspondent. “They feel neither the obligation nor the opportunity.”
Baker added that the best White House reporting often isn’t the result of interviews with the president but that extended sit-downs remain an important function of accountability. “Reporters whining about not getting interviews is one of the least attractive elements of White House press corps,” he said. “But the president talks about defending democracy and that’s part of democracy too – answering questions from people not on your side.”
Such recalcitrance wasn’t always a Biden trait. In the past, he was more accessible to his favorite media figures. Before taking office, he occasionally held small meetings where opinion writers were present, and sometimes spoke with columnists and writers like Meacham, JONATHAN CAPEHART and MIKE BARNICLE.
The White House has, in the past, dismissed criticism that the president is inaccessible, noting how Biden often engages with the White House press corps during events, and earlier this year held a marathon press conference that lasted for nearly two hours. A White House official said he often spontaneously takes questions and uses op-eds to set the agenda for the days ahead.
But those aren’t one-on-one interviews, where more probing questions and follow-ups can steer a conversation in newsy ways. For now, Biden and some of his senior staff appear content to stick with the current plan, including those off-the-record sessions with writers and reporters. As CNN noted earlier this year, he’s spoken with half a dozen writers off the record in recent months, including Times columnist TOM FRIEDMAN. He’s also occasionally called up Friedman’s colleague, DAVID BROOKS, who wrote about one of his chats last year in a column.
In a text message, Brooks told West Wing Playbook that he’s had “a couple brief calls with Biden,” but “nothing major” in recent months.
TEXT US — Are you HOOR QURESHI, chief of staff for the Office of Digital Strategy? We want to hear from you. And we’ll keep you anonymous if you’d like. Or if you think we missed something in today’s edition, let us know and we may include it tomorrow. Email us at [email protected] or you can text/Signal/Wickr Alex at 8183240098.
This one is from Alex: In U.S. history, political parties have nominated 18 senators as their presidential nominee but only three have won. Who are they?
(Answer at the bottom.)
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: A FoxNews.com story by BROOKE SINGMAN with the headline: “Biden condemns actions of armed man arrested near Kavanaugh’s home, supports increased security for justices.” Deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES tweeted out the piece, in which he told Singman: “President Biden condemns the actions of this individual in the strongest terms, and is grateful to law enforcement for quickly taking him into custody.”
RELATED: Our friends at Playbook had a roundup this afternoon of the threat to Kavanaugh.
ALSO RELATED:ERIK WEMPLE’s look at how Fox News has dominated the White House briefing.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: This New York Times dive into the administration’s internal debates about the economy and inflation by ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS and JEANNA SMIALEK.
In it, BRIAN DEESE, the head of the National Economic Council, acknowledged disagreements within the administration over how to combat inflation and even talk about it. He portrayed them as a part of healthy debates rather than fractiousness, however.
The article said one of those debates is over student debt forgiveness. “Economists in the administration think that loan forgiveness would, at most, push inflation up a little bit by giving people with outstanding student debt more financial wiggle room,” it reports. “But some economists in the administration’s orbit have expressed concern about the possibility of doing something that could stimulate demand — even slightly — at a moment when it is already hot.”
UNION MAN: Biden is going to Philly next week to attend the AFL-CIO’s Constitutional Convention, the Philadelphia Inquirer scooped.
TALKING POINT: After progressives struggled or suffered primary election losses in California last night, Biden told reporters today that, “The voters sent a clear message last night … Both parties have to step up and do something about crime as well as gun violence.”
PACK YOUR BAGS AND YOUR ELECTRICAL OUTLET ADAPTERS: Biden is going to Schloss Elmau in Germany for the G-7 on June 25. He will then head to Madrid for the 2022 NATO Summit on June 28.
DOUG WATCH: The second gentleman talked with an artificial intelligence recording of a Holocaust survivor, per local Fox anchor ELEX MICHAELSON, who is following him in Los Angeles.
FRIENDLY FIRE: Some congressional Democrats are not happy with the prospect of Biden meeting with Saudi Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN, our ANDREW DESIDERIO reports (follow him here!)
Sen. TIM KAINE (D-Va.) said he is “deeply against” any meeting with the crown prince, whom U.S. intelligence agencies implicated in the murder of Washington Post columnist JAMAL KHASHOGGI. “I think it’s atrocious. I’d meet with other Saudi officials, but not that murderer.” (Khashoggi was a Virginia resident.)
RELATED: Newly arrived White House official JOHN KIRBY sparred with CNN’s JOHN KING today on the tricky questions around Saudi Arabia. Watch that full interview here.
HUNTER SPOTTING: The president’s son HUNTER was photographed in Malibu yesterday donning an “I Voted” pin and grabbing lunch with his daughter MAISY, per Fox News.
Powell’s Opinions on Inflation Matter, Not Biden’s (WSJ’s Greg Ip)
Biden admin relies on Taliban-controlled airline to help Afghans flee Afghanistan (NBC’s Dan De Luce and Courtney Kube)
Religious leaders in Los Angeles talk abortion rights with Vice President Kamala Harris (Religious News Service’s Alejandra Molina)
Biden will be on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” tonight at 11:35 pm ET. Of the interview, Kimmel told Extra this week: “There are a lot of terrible things going on … It will be more serious than it typically would be.”
WARREN HARDING won in 1920; JOHN F. KENNEDY won in 1960; and BARACK OBAMA won in 2008. The first senator ever nominated by a party for president was HENRY CLAY in December 1831. He went on to get his butt kicked by ANDREW JACKSON in 1832.
A CALL OUT — Do you think you have a more difficult trivia question? Send us your best question on the presidents with a citation and we may feature it.
Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein