Biden’s Limited Accessibility to the Media Comes into Focus as Correspondents’ Dinner Nears

Nicholas Ballasy
April 27, 2022

As President Biden prepares to take the stage at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, his limited accessibility to the media has come into focus.

In his first year, Biden held half as many news conferences as former President Trump, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California. Trump also frequently spoke with the press impromptu before entering Marine One, something Biden does not do as often. Biden has held two solo news conferences so far this year, one in Washington and the other in Brussels.

Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” interviewed Steven Portnoy, president of the White House Correspondents Association, about this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner and mentioned that Biden isn’t always as accessible to the press compared to his predecessor.

“The mission of the association continues to be to advocate for reporters to be able to have those interactions with the president on behalf of the public, readers, viewers, listeners,” said Portnoy, who leads the organization hosting the event.

Portnoy also said his remarks at the dinner will be “deadly serious,” given the number of journalists killed while covering the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have said they would like to see Biden come to Ukraine to see the dire situation up close. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Ukraine and met Zelensky over the weekend. Biden hasn’t announced plans to meet in-person with Zelensky.

Amid the calls for Biden to visit Ukraine during the Russian invasion, the president recently announced that he is participating in the White House Correspondents Dinner after 4 years of former President Donald Trump skipping the gathering.

Biden is set to deliver a comedy routine rather than a formal speech, similar to the performances of past presidents at the infamous dinner. Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, is the dinner’s featured entertainer. 

The main purpose of the gathering is to award scholarships to aspiring journalists and recognize the achievements of the working press covering the White House. Networks reserve tables for the dinner and often invite celebrities as guests. For example, reality TV star Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend, comedian Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live, are expected to attend this year’s dinner.

The event is estimated to draw about 2,600 people. The most recent comparable large-scale high-profile gathering in Washington was the Gridiron Dinner, which led to over 70 COVID positive cases, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams encouraged the Washington establishment to learn from the results of the “superspreader” Gridiron Dinner, arguing that “mass gatherings that lead to mass infections cannot become our ‘new normal.'”

COVID cases are rising in the Washington Metropolitan area driven by the spread of the BA.2 variant.

Organizers of the Correspondents’ Dinner are requiring a same-day negative COVID test to attend, according to Portnoy. Currently, Biden and other cabinet officials are often seen wearing masks even though indoor mask mandates have been lifted in the Washington D.C. area. The White House Correspondents Association hasn’t said if they are going to require dinner attendees to wear masks indoors at the event.

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