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Presidential press conferences have become largely useless

This editorial is excerpted from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

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.

Also, the president sometimes seems old because he is old. He is 78.

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.

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.

And it is possible to ask tough questions in a polite way.

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.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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