One of the first signs that our world is returning to normal was the rebirth of real press conferences. Trump rarely condescended to have one. But scant hours into President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stood at the lectern in the James Brady Briefing Room and said the president wanted to bring back “truth and transparency.” She promised daily weekday briefings. “See you tomorrow,” she said at the end to a stunned audience of inky wretches.
The presidential press conference is an American innovation roughly parallel to the Question Time of parliamentary systems. The U. S. tradition started with the first conference called by Woodrow Wilson, who had innocently invited a few reporters to meet with him at the White House in March, 1913. To his surprise, he found himself facing 125 members of the press corps. Early versions precluded quoting the President directly.
Trump used his tumultuous news conferences to lash out at opponents, air grievances, and engage in testy exchanges, often with women reporters — all aimed at impressing his media-hating base. President Biden’s return to news-inspired conferences is welcome, but they won’t be smooth sailing. Already there have been sharp questions. That’s as it should be.