Democrats outright expect journalists to “be on their side” and feel “horrified” when they’re pressed by journalists, a White House reporter says.
A “prominent White House reporter” made the remark while speaking anonymously to journalist Julia Ioffe for an article on the dramatic shift in coverage of the Trump and Biden administrations, notably the expectation from the latter of positive framing.
“Democrats in general have a much thinner skin,” the reporter said. “This is not unique to Trump but Republicans never expect a fair shake, so if you cover them fairly, you can have a good working relationship with them. Democrats de facto expect you to be on their side and are horrified when you hold them to account as you would any other administration. It goes back to the Obama years. [Obama staffers would be] like, ‘Don’t you realize that being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition?!’ And I would be like, ‘Yes, but I’m writing about why your website keeps crashing.’”
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The press’ far more friendly coverage of the Biden team has drawn criticism, with questions about his ice cream preferences, outright praise for Biden from reporters like PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor, and gushing over Press Secretary Jen Psaki from figures like CNN’s Brian Stelter and MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace standing in stark contrast to the belligerent style that marked the Trump era. This week, Psaki led the press corps in singing “Happy Birthday” to one of the reporters at a briefing.
New York Magazine writer Olivia Nuzzi, who predicted last year that Washington journalists would not criticize Biden for fear of losing social status, was troubled by the business-as-usual approach reporters seem to be taking.
“It’s a return to how I assume things existed in this town,” she said. “There’s something gross about that, though it’s a much lower-grade gross than what we were dealing with before … The Biden White House necessitates more operating, it requires a phoniness. They’re passive aggressive, whereas the Trump people were aggressive.”
The reporters Ioffe spoke to largely held to the narrative that the Biden White House was a far more disciplined, professional environment than the leak-heavy Trump White House, but their jobs were more difficult as a result. Reporters interviewed in the piece acknowledged Trump was good for the journalism business; New York Times reporter Peter Baker noted that Trump stories at the liberal newspaper’s site get far more readers than Biden ones.
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Liberal New Yorker writer Susan Glasser said the Biden team was “very opaque” and the coverage of it thus far has been “much less deep and rich,” although she in part blamed the pandemic.
“There’s a sense that Biden’s position is fragile and that he has to be protected, that any unkind gaze might knock him over—which plays into every right-wing stereotype,” she said.
Biden waited more than 60 days after taking office to hold his first solo news conference, a modern record, and has largely avoided one-on-one interviews for the first six months he’s held office. One “young” reporter told Ioffe that it was “infuriating” how controlled the environment around Biden was, although they added they didn’t wish Trump was still president.
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“I don’t know that there’s been a president who’s been so protected and wrapped in so many layers of wool to keep him away from anything remotely approaching an adversarial interview,” one reporter told Ioffe. “”Why expose him to any risk? He’s old, he’s lost a few steps. It’s worked for them so far.”