Column: Team Biden’s Rigid Control of the Press

Everyone knew instinctively that the Biden White House would get enormous cooperation and positive media coverage from the “news” media, after the alleged democracy-darkening Donald days. But Team Biden’s control of the narrative can look more like a stranglehold.

On May 10, Politico revealed “If you’ve read a quote from an administration official in a newspaper or a wire story recently, there’s a good chance that the White House communications team had an opportunity to edit it first.”

The Biden White House frequently demands that interviews with administration officials be conducted on the territory of “background with quote approval,” according to five White House reporters who aren’t with Politico. This means you submit your quotations of administration officials, and then the White House approves it. “The practice allows the White House an extra measure of control as it tries to craft press coverage.”

“Craft” is a more delicate word for “manipulate.”

This isn’t entirely new. Obama did it, too. Trump tried, less often. Politico suggests reporters are reluctant to say no to using “background with quote approval” because it could put them at a disadvantage with their competitors. Editors who want that “insider” feel in their stories are going to pressure reporters to accept. Access is everything. Resistance is apparently futile.

This underlines something very important for media consumers. Be suspicious that official (and partisan) sources are dictating large chunks of stories to reporters. They approve the quotes, they lecture about preferred terminology – an “extra measure of control.”

New York magazine writer Olivia Nuzzi wrote about how the White House is now policing the language of politics. Words like “border crisis” have been disparaged. The border is a “challenge.” Nuzzi argued “a highly particular and rigid approach to language is a form of governing itself, just as a careless and inflammatory one was under Donald Trump.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told Nuzzi “We are just not going to get pulled down in the muck of right-wing-driven arguments about word choice.” As usual, liberal reporters are hectored not to sound “right wing.” Instead, reporters were pressured not to use “crisis,” and then servile outlets like the Associated Press officially instructed reporters to avoid “crisis.”

Nuzzi’s chat with Psaki came before a David Axelrod podcast interview in which Psaki admitted they tell President Biden not to engage with reporters very much. It’s “not something we recommend.” They prefer canned speeches and carefully curated social-media messaging. They don’t want Biden…improvising extemporaneously, like the day he noted the border “crisis” on the golf course.

Naturally, this rigid control of the press is followed by admiration. Axelrod told Nuzzi what the Biden team has accomplished: “They’ve effectively maximized his earnestness and decency. They’ve not allowed him to be in situations where he can stray.” They’ve minimized his press conferences, even though those media interrogators are telling him how moral and decent he is.

That underlines some of this control doesn’t need to be enforced. As one alleged Biden insider told Nuzzi, “Biden is the most liberal president we’ve had — and the public thinks he’s a moderate.” That ideological distortion comes naturally to liberal reporters.

So forget this notion of the press as misbehaving ink-stained wretches and rebellious truth-tellers. Now, in Bidenland, there are no “bombshell” revelations, only “landmark” legislation to “rebuild and invest in America.” The soundbites almost always make Biden look like a statesman saying only the most sensible things in favor of everything that is good. The “message discipline” is palpable, and the morning and evening “newscasts” routinely sound more like pleasant emanations of publicity. 

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