HOWARD KURTZ: Why President Biden stays off television during big breaking news

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The polls keep getting worse for President Biden.

His approval rating in a new NBC poll has hit a low of 37%, with Donald Trump leading him by 5 points in a hypothetical matchup. Worse, Trump beats him by 20 points on handling the economy.

Just as the press is churning out pieces about rising consumer confidence and the record-breaking stock market – Trump manages to claim credit for that too – it shows the public still has plenty of financial anxiety. 

You can’t use statistics to tell people how they should feel. It doesn’t work that way.

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The report last Friday showing a gain of 353,000 jobs in January was an absolute blowout. Economists across the spectrum agreed on that. Larry Kudlow, Trump’s chief economic adviser and now a Fox Business host, said if he was Biden he’d brag about it too, including rising wages.

Here’s what the president did not do:

He didn’t step before the cameras, take credit for the unexpected surge in employment and tout his economic program as a success.

Nope, he put out a statement.

Donald Trump speaking

Republican presidential candidate and former President Trump talks to reporters at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquarters on Jan. 31, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Biden has a thing about statements, but television and the web thrive on video. A statement is read by anchors and hosts for perhaps half a day and then disappears.

So why would Biden pass up a video victory lap?

Which brings me to the point of this column.

Everyone knows that as president, Trump spoke to reporters far more often and did many times more sitdown interviews than his successor. I’ve complained about the lack of press access many times, and clearly it’s not going to change. Even as a former president, Trump makes far more news than his likely opponent.

Biden’s team has concluded that he needs to be protected from the press because he, well, might bumble or stumble or make a mistake – to which I would say, so what? Everyone already knows that about the 81-year-old president.

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Consider:

After five days of largely conservative criticism for inaction after that Iranian drone killed three American soldiers, the Biden administration late Friday unleashed airstrikes against 85 targets in Iraq and Syria, killing more than 40 people – and there are said to be more attacks to come.

You might think this was a golden opportunity to play the commander-in-chief card, with a short and perfectly legitimate televised speech on why he ordered the attacks and how anyone who seeks to harm Americans will face the same kind of retaliation.

Uh uh. He put out a statement. Still hasn’t given that speech. I don’t get it either.

We also learned in recent days that, for the second straight year, Biden has refused the offer of a Super Bowl interview.

Talk about a major-league fumble. Massive audience. Usually a lighter tone, with perhaps a couple of hard questions, maybe some Taylor Swift chatter. Barack Obama even took Super Bowl questions from Bill O’Reilly. 

President Joe Biden speaking

President Biden delivers remarks at the St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, on Jan. 28, 2024. (KENT NISHIMURA/AFP via Getty Images)

Why wouldn’t an underdog seize such a prime opportunity? Last year, when FOX had the big game, maybe you could say Biden didn’t want to deal with the network, but this time it’s CBS. He can’t handle Norah O’Donnell or Scott Pelley?

And one more. Biden, running against token opposition, surprised no one by winning 96% of the vote in Saturday’s South Carolina primary. That, of course, is the state that rescued his candidacy four years ago.

But Biden wasn’t even in South Carolina. He went to California for fundraising and then to Nevada, which holds the next contest.

If the president had just stayed the night, he could have given a rousing victory speech, and the networks would have run clips for the next couple of days.

So what if he was running against Marianne Williamson and an obscure congressman?

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No speech.

Now some might argue that Biden should get himself on the tube to make a pitch for the Senate’s bipartisan budget bill that both Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson are trying to kill. Ronald Reagan excelled at garnering support this way.

But this is entirely an inside game; appealing to the public wouldn’t matter. Plus, the measure is almost certainly going down. 

In a normal environment, yesterday’s endorsement of the compromise measure by the Border Patrol union would have a huge impact. Not in this hyper-partisan atmosphere.

Joe Biden on stage

President Biden gestures to the audience after speaking at a campaign event in North Las Vegas on Sunday. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

When Biden met with culinary union workers in Las Vegas yesterday, he spoke briefly to pool reporters.

What about the border bill?

“We don’t have enough folks. We don’t have enough judges. You don’t have enough folks here. We need help. Why won’t they give me the help?”

How would that happen? His answer was inaudible.

A reporter asked about King Charles’s cancer diagnosis.

“I’m concerned about him. Just heard about his diagnosis,” and hopes to speak with him “God willing.”

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That is how POTUS communicates with the press these days, with short, clipped answers.

At least the helicopter engines weren’t drowning him out.

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