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WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING: What do pressers prove?

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Many of President Joe Biden's critics, and a few of his friends, feared he would not be able to handle the presidential press conference.

It turns out that the concern was misplaced.

It is not Biden who seems antiquated; it is the custom, and format, of the presidential press conference.

Like Dwight D. Eisenhower, who seemed old at the time of his presidency (he was 62 when he took office and 70 when he left, the age of Donald Trump when elected), Biden sometimes takes time to find the right word.

That's not entirely a bad thing.

And, like Ike, if one focuses on substance, Biden seems perfectly fine — at times commanding — in Q&A, including with the press. He is actually better at press conferences than Barack Obama.

(Trump did not hold many formal press conferences, but he had frequent unofficial exchanges with the White House press corps in which he gave at least as good as he got.)

Also, the president sometimes seems old because he is old. He is 78 — 16 years older than Ike when he came to office. Biden is not trying to hide it. So what? Franklin D. Roosevelt could not walk. But he could think, speak, deal and lead.

The problem is not Biden or his age. It is what the presidential press conference has become. It has turned into a shout fest of "gotchas" and repeated, ad nauseam, questions designed to make the questioner look smart and tough and the commander in chief dumb.

What actually happens in these pressers is that the reporter often looks rude and obnoxious and the president looks ill-tempered and thin-skinned.

Biden lost his cool with a CNN reporter at the end of his post-Putin summit press conference. It was a hot day. Everyone had already asked the same question three times each. And the reporter did seem to be both opining and putting words in Biden's mouth.

We are a long way from John F. Kennedy's master class in press conferences. He and the press sparred, but there was respect on both sides, and wit — almost all of it JFK's.

But, even in those days, we didn't learn much. These are propaganda turns for a president.

Mind you, there is plenty of reason to question both the value of the summit and Biden's approach to Vladimir Putin. But a meeting of reporters and the president is not the place. Reporters are supposed to report, not opine. They are supposed to ask questions, not posture.

Two forms of presidential communication are actually useful to citizens, and both were employed skillfully by Franklin D. Roosevelt. One is the fireside chat, in which the president speaks directly to the American people of his plans, programs and progress. The second is the informal Oval Office visit with one, a few or many reporters, in which some part of the exchange may be on background. Ideally, these sessions would be without TV cameras and cellphones.

The president has apologized to the CNN reporter, who has indicated there are no hard feelings. And that's refreshing.

But since true mutual respect, manners and wit are unlikely to make a comeback in Washington, we should end the presidential presser for good. It accomplishes nothing, informs no one and makes everyone involved look small.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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