Bob Franken




Maybe President Joe Biden had too many days of jet lag. Maybe he’d had it with the weasel words of diplospeak — the Russian description of his meeting with President Vladimir Putin was “constructive”; the Americans’ was “positive” — or maybe it was too many hours without food. They didn’t take a meal break. But by the time he met with reporters, Biden was off his affable-image game. He was downright snitty to one person in particular.
Even though he followed such a horrible Donald Trump act, he needs to remember that reporters are not his friends. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins was simply doing her job, trying to squeeze out every last answer she could get from him.
“Why are you so confident he’ll change his behavior?” she shouted as he walked off the stage after giving a rosy description of his meeting with Putin.
Maybe “confident” is one of those diplospeak weasel words, but for whatever reason, he turned on Collins:
“When did I say I was confident?” Biden was clearly irate, wagging his right index finger for emphasis. “What I said was — let’s get it straight — I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them, and it diminishes their standing in the world.”
Furthermore, she is in “the wrong business” if she couldn’t see the value of meeting with Putin, who had demonstrated in his own separate news conference that he apparently had not budged one bit in the meeting with Biden.
On and on Biden went, at one point chastising the press for its “negativity.” But before he boarded Air Force One he had reconsidered, either that or his horrified aides had persuaded him his tantrum didn’t play very well:
“I owe my last questioner an apology,” Biden said to reporters on the tarmac in Geneva. “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave.”
“I apologize for having been short. … Look, to be a good reporter, you got to be negative. You got to have a negative view of life,” Biden went on. “You’re the brightest people in the country … but it makes no sense for me to negotiate with you.”

Never one to miss a PR opportunity, CNN immediately put Collins on camera to say she appreciated the presidential apology but that it was “totally unnecessary.” Well played, Kaitlan. (Full disclosure: I went through a CNN phase, in case you don’t know.)
But empathetic Joe should know that the reporters who cover him can’t respond with in kind, so he shouldn’t use his presidential pulpit to bully them.
Secondly, he had obviously mistaken the critical coverage of his predecessor’s lying demagoguery as an expectation of friendly reporting. In other words, plan on the press corps simply falling on their backs for tummy rubs. It doesn’t work that way.
But maybe it was a good transition back to domestic adversarial politics, where the Republicans borrow many of the tactics of Vladimir Putin.
They have bipartisan repair of infrastructure for a disintegrating to sabotage one way or the the other , no matter how desperately the country needs it. They have voter rights to suppress, which operate at two levels: in Congress, blocking election reform; and at the state level in legislatures they control, bringing Jim Crow back to life.
And President Joe Biden has President Donald Trump’s authoritarian legacy to overcome. Trump rules the GOP, with its millions of adherents, and Biden can go only so long overturning everything Trump left behind.
Getting back to the media, it shouldn’t be necessary to meet with his Attorney General Merrick Garland for assurances he’ll no longer continue Trump’s unconstitutional monitoring of reporters.
We don’t need to be coddled, but reporters shouldn’t be intimidated for just doing their job, even if they fail to amuse the chief executive.

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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