By: NATHANIEL BALLANTYNE
TRUENEWSBLOG – President JOE BIDEN did his first local news interview Monday, more than 10 months into his administration. The lucky outlet: WKRC-TV, a Cincinnati TV station. In the seven-minute interview with reporter KYLE INSKEEP, Biden rolled off the top of his tongue the exact dollar amounts that Ohio and next door Kentucky would receive from his recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill. He addressed concerns about supply chain backlogs and downplayed his drop in the polls. He seemed genuinely comfortable. Which raises the question: why doesn’t he do these more?
Local TV interviews are considered—in D.C. circles at least—non-confrontational forums to reach voters about provincial interests and concerns. They’re easy pickings, by and large, with the main downside being that they take up time and the boss can, occasionally, slip up.
A senior White House official told us the Cincinnati station was selected for the interview because Biden had traveled there in July for a CNN town hall, where he pushed for passage of his bipartisan infrastructure bill. The official called the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Cincinnati with northern Kentucky across the Ohio River, an “iconic example of underinvestment in infrastructure.”
The interview with WKRC marks Biden’s 11th one-on-one interview as president — local or national. By way of context, former President DONALD TRUMP conducted 11 local radio and TV interviews out of 78 interviews his first year in office. And former President BARACK OBAMA did six local radio and TV interviews out of 157 interviews in his first year, presidential watcher and former CBS White House reporter MARK KNOLLER tells us.
The White House and its allies have downplayed these disparities by arguing that the only people who care about how much Biden talks to the press are members of the press. But privately — and increasingly publicly — Democrats have encouraged the president to be more public-facing, and to lean on local news too.
The WKRC interview comes as the White House has gone into overdrive this week to promote the local benefits of the infrastructure bill, which Biden plans to sign into law at a ceremony on Monday. The press shop has been blasting out “what they’re reading in the states” roundups of local coverage of the legislation. White House senior associate communications director MATT HILL tapped out a 21-tweet thread earlier this week highlighting the coverage , including articles in the Hartford Courant, Texas Tribune and The Kansas City Star.
But it’s unclear if, in the near term, Biden is going to be doing any more interviews like the one he did for WKRC-TV. “I would expect that there will be more from the president,” a senior White House official said. “It’s something that we always endeavor to do more of…Between interviews and everything else, I think you’ll continue to see more regional media with the president and vice president and the Cabinet.”
So far, the White House has been leaning on Cabinet secretaries and other lesser-known administration officials to get the local message out. Energy Secretary JENNIFER GRANHOLM and National Economic Council deputy director DAVID KAMIN conducted local media calls this week in Missouri and Idaho. Yesterday, Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary POLLY TROTTENBERG and SAMANTHA SILVERBERG, special assistant to the president for transportation and infrastructure policy, hosted a call for regional reporters about the infrastructure deal’s transportation numbers.
“They’ve done a bunch of regional press interviews where they summarize the introductory remarks and the standard remarks that they give to anybody, but then when we get to the Q & A, we’re all asking about local projects, and they know about the local projects,” JONATHAN SALANT , the Washington correspondent for NJ Advance Media told us of the DOT call. “They really knew the information. It wasn’t just gratuitous buzzwords, which I hate.”
Salant, a former president of the Regional Reporters Association who is now on the board of directors, said the group of more than 50 reporters has put out a formal interview request for Biden. Salant was one of the regional reporters who interviewed President GEORGE H.W. BUSH in an auditorium in the old Executive Office Building. Trump also hosted a handful of regional reporters for an interview.
Biden’s arms-length approach, by contrast, has irked some of its members, especially after the president castigated the White House press corps for its recent coverage of the supply chain bottlenecks.
“By the way, you all write for a living. I haven’t seen any of you explain the supply chain very well,” Biden told reporters on Saturday. “No, no I’m not being critical. I’m being deadly earnest,” he responded. “This is a confusing time.”