President Biden sometimes seems at odds with the press, and other times, he seems to avoid the press altogether. But is that reality, or what the press wants you to think?
Both sides of partisan media have highlighted Biden’s dust-ups and frustrations with reporters (like when he called Fox News’s Peter Doocy a ‘stupid SOB’), how he’s gone months at a time without holding news conferences, and how even as vice president, he at times seemed unavailable to the media.
But the real question is this: how much less accessible is Biden to the press compared to other presidents?
Biden Trails Many Past Presidents in News Conferences Held
According to the Presidential News Conferences tracking database from the University of California-Santa Barbara, President Biden is averaging roughly 11 news conferences per year.
If that pace continues, Biden would average the least news conferences of any president since Ronald Reagan, who averaged around six per year during his eight years in office.
“News conferences,” as defined by the database, are “an interaction between the President and multiple members of the press in a relatively formal setting.” If you’ve ever seen the president standing at a podium and speaking to reporters, then you’ve seen one of these conferences.
Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump held a similar number of news conferences to each other: roughly 20 per year.
According to the UCSB tracker, news conferences were much more common back in the day. No president has averaged more than 40 news conferences per year since Harry S. Truman (1945-53). George H.W. Bush is the closest, at 35 per year.
Of the various forums in which the president and press interact, news conferences are typically the most organized, and provide the best chances for reporters to get information. Sources across the spectrum have pointed out that even when Biden does hold a news conference, he tends to only call on pre-selected reporters, or not take questions at all.
“Exchanges with Reporters” and “Press Briefings”
The data also shows the number of "exchanges with reporters," which counts any time a president is posed questions by the press in public, such as when he’s deboarding Air Force One or other impromptu moments.
Trump averaged 175 of these “exchanges” per year while in office. Biden averaged 142 between 2021 and 2022. Obama averaged just 25 per year, the lowest since Jimmy Carter.
Separately, UCSB also tracks “Press briefings,” which rarely involve the president, aside from exceptions like Trump's participation in Coronavirus Task Force Press briefings. These are typically events when the White House Press Secretary fields questions from the press corps.
Between 2021 and 2022, Biden averaged over 200 press briefings per year. That’s on par with most of his predecessors dating back to Bill Clinton.
Trump averaged 93 press briefings per year, though the database summary notes how “For a period, the Trump Administration discontinued regular press briefings with the Press Secretary.”
Trump, who accused the media of covering then-Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “rudely & inaccurately,” limited the number of on-camera “daily” press briefings to about one per month by the end of 2018, and suspended the briefings altogether in early 2019. Press briefings then became frequent with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
How Biden Compares to Recent Presidents Overall
When just tallying the number of news conferences, Biden ranks far behind his most recent predecessors:
- George W. Bush (26.25 per year over eight yrs)
- Clinton (24.13/yr over eight yrs)
- Trump (22/yr over four yrs)
- Obama (20.38/yr over eight yrs)
- Biden (10.5/yr over two yrs)
When combining the number of news conferences and engagements with reporters, Biden is behind Trump, but even with Clinton and well ahead of Bush and Obama:
- Trump (197/yr over four years)
- Clinton (155.25/yr over eight years)
- Biden (152.5/yr over two years)
- Bush (85.25/yr over eight years)
- Obama (45.25/yr over eight years)
Based on sheer numbers, Biden makes himself available for formal news conferences roughly half as much as any president since Reagan.
When you add everything together, the Biden administration overall interacts with the press more than most past administrations. But much of it is either informal, or is Biden’s staff taking (and deflecting) questions instead of him.
Journalists on different sides have highlighted Biden’s frustrations with the media, such as when he said he wanted “to talk about happy things” during a news conference on the Afghanistan withdrawal, or when he told reporters they should be “more polite people” while taking questions on UFOs.
The right side of the media tends to be more accusatory on the subject, with some framing it as a calculated lack of transparency by Biden to cover up corruption.
Is it Biden’s tendency to butt head with reporters that leads him to avoid formal news conferences? Is it his proneness to gaffes and issues with stuttering? Is it some attempt to cover up wrongdoings?
Or, as he’s also the oldest president since Reagan, perhaps he is pacing himself? Maybe it’s simply because he’s working on things deemed more important by him and his staff?
We probably won’t know for a while — at least not until someone from the administration writes a book or leaks it to the press. But for those seeking as much transparency as possible from their elected officials, Biden’s lack of availability to the press should be a concern.
Henry A. Brechter is the Managing Editor of AllSides. He has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed by Director of Research Andrew Weinzierl (Lean Left bias), CEO John Gable (Lean Right bias), and News Editor Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left bias).