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Editorial: Biden needs to start taking some tough questions

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Political News

At that point, the Biden administration’s lack of transparency and the president’s unwillingness to hold a news conference became too much even for sympathetic reporters. All over New York and Washington, the righteous indignation of a trained journalist trying to do a job crucial to American democracy kicked into gear. The memory of Biden not taking questions after major addresses on Aug. 16, Aug. 18, Aug. 31, and Sept. 9 started to smart, and many reporters took to Twitter to say, in essence, why the heck is this administration so afraid of questions?

We’re amplifying those observations here: Why indeed?

On Thursday, Biden administration communications director Jen Psaki tried to blame Johnson, of all people, for disrupting her careful control of the event. He took questions without announcing that intention in advance!, she complained. That is a ridiculous argument. Reporters in the presence of world leaders are supposed to ask questions, especially at staged events. And if those leaders value democracy, they should make every effort to answer them. This should be expected by staffers, public servants capable of pivoting according to events and whose job is absolutely not to stifle legitimate inquiry.

That’s un-American. And dangerous.

In fact, the Biden communications team’s hustle served only to make their boss look worse, to play into any negative perceptions about his acuity and leadership. No chief executive should let himself be hustled out of a room like that for any reason other than a security concern. The optics don’t look so good, and democracy is not served.

No wonder the rest of the world was marveling at this bizarre American presidential reluctance to answer to the people. Is this not what we like to preach that the rest of the world should do?

 

In fact, Biden is an old hand at speaking to the press. He is skilled at the art of frank oratory and in paying attention to the emotional engagement of the listener. He is perfectly capable of defending himself. As he has an obligation to do exactly that.

Developing crises such as the ones this administration faces need an explanation, a timely explanation, from the top, lest the leader appear to be drowning inside them. And Americans are smart enough to know the difference between a prepared speech on a teleprompter followed by no questions whatsoever, and a frank interview with a professional reporter representing the interests of the American citizenry.

One must not be allowed to replace the other. Especially when the problems of an administration compound.

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