Hours before President Biden taped a late-night comedy interview with ABC host Jimmy Kimmel, he attempted a pratfall of his own — tripping up the steps of Air Force One as he embarked on another day without a one-on-one interview with a journalist.
Biden began his fraught ascension of the plane’s stairs after declining to take questions from reporters, who grumbled during the flight to Los Angeles about Biden’s lack of press availability.
The commander in chief’s stagger went largely unnoticed, in part because footage was not immediately published by TV outlets such as C-SPAN, which have access to unfiltered pool feeds.
Biden’s interview with Kimmel, a comedian, was booked despite the fact that the president hasn’t given an on-record sit-down interview to a reporter in about four months.
Just before his fall, Biden delivered a statement responding to Tuesday night primary elections that featured the recall of far-left San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
“I think the voters sent a clear message last night,” he said. “Both parties have to step up and do something about crime, as well as gun violence.”
Biden, 79, then boarded the plane without further engagement with the press. He also did not stop to speak to reporters as he departed the White House Wednesday morning.
The president, whose detractors frequently accuse him of being in mental decline, previously appeared to lose his balance navigating Air Force One’s steps last month as he traveled to Illinois. In March 2021, Biden fell repeatedly on the steps. The White House blamed that episode on windy weather at the airport.
Biden will spend the next three days in Los Angeles as host of the Summit of the Americas, the run-up to which has been dominated by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s announcement that he would boycott the event after the White House declined to invite the leftist authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Aboard Air Force One, a journalist pressed White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan for an explanation of why Biden did not schedule a press conference while in Los Angeles, which he has done while attending other summits overseas.
“I think it’d be hard to argue that he hasn’t taken many, many questions from the press,” Sullivan replied — despite the fact that Biden has done fewer interviews and press conferences than his predecessors, and it seemed unlikely that he would be pressed too hard by the reliably liberal Kimmel, the onetime co-host of Comedy Central’s bawdy “The Man Show.”
Sullivan’s attempt to soothe frustrated journalists did little good.
White House Correspondents’ Association President Steven Portnoy of CBS News Radio tweeted noting that Biden chose to forgo a press conference despite Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressuring Latin American countries this week to do more to promote press freedom.
Mike Memoli, a White House reporter for NBC, added, “The U.S. is usually the one pressing foreign allies to hold news conferences at summits abroad. Biden not doing one on home soil as he hosts summit.”
Ruffled feathers extended to the Kimmel taping itself, where the White House press office allowed only still photographers into a pool spray with the president — meaning reporters, audio-recording equipment and videocameras were banned.
“For the 2nd time this week, the [White House] will only allow still cameras into a Biden event – no video. Tonight, only stills for a spray of the Biden/Kimmel taping,” tweeted Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich. “Earlier this week, only stills were brought to the South Lawn for his [meeting] with Sen [Chris] Murphy – TV was told about it afterward.’”
Biden’s handlers previously outraged the White House press corps on April 7 when they allowed only still photographers to observe Biden and Ketanji Brown Jackson celebrate her Supreme Court confirmation vote. At the time, it was a rare deviation from standard press pool coverage of the president and Biden’s team afterwards released a heavily edited reel.
Biden’s most recent known on-record sit-down interview with a professional journalist was on Feb. 10 with Lester Holt of NBC. The sitdown was recorded and aired three days later during the network’s pregame coverage of the Super Bowl.
On Feb. 25, Biden taped two separate podcasts — a roughly 13-minute talk with Democratic activist Brian Cohen and a nearly 30-minute conversation with left-leaning Boston College professor Heather Richardson. Cohen said afterward that “I’m not a journalist … I have my agenda and I think this White House is doing a good job trying to enact some of it. Our goals are aligned.”
On March 1, Biden hosted a traditional off-the-record lunch with TV anchors ahead of his first State of the Union address to Congress. He allowed attendees to report his remarks on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Biden also hosted New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for an off-record lunch on May 16, but Friedman wrote about a week later that the ground rules allowed him to report only “what I ate and how I felt after.”
Biden also gave a two-word reply to CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins on March 18, saying as he passed her in the West Wing that his call that day with Chinese President Xi Jinping “went well.”
The president sat for just 28 interviews during his first year in office. By contrast, Donald Trump gave 95 interviews, Barack Obama did 162 and George W. Bush granted 50 interviews during their first year as president, according to records kept by White House Transition Project Director Martha Kumar.
There’s no official repository of presidential interviews — leaving the tabulations to informal record-keepers such as Kumar, former CBS News reporter Mark Knoller and the platform Factba.se. The counts can vary due to different standards for what counts as an interview and differing visibility into local or off-the-record interviews.