Chris Johnson Shares His Disappointing Experience From The Frontlines Of The Biden Press Conference
President Joe Biden had his first press conference today, March 25, 2021, sixty-four days into his presidency. President Obama’s first press conference was on Feb 10, 2009 and President Trump’s was on February 16, 2017. So Biden is a full month and a half later than his predecessors. If you’re keeping up with the news, you know of the current political challenges facing the Biden Administration; a border crisis, the continuous looming threat of COVID-19, migrant children still being kept in holding facilities, gun reform bills, and anti-transgender bills being thrown around already leading to voters being up in arms. It’s chaotic, but as we all have come to understand, that’s politics in America. While the media had their finger on the pulse of the Trump Administration, watching his every move and holding him accountable for every sound byte, does it seem that the attention is less on Biden, maybe even been given some free passes from the press or is it just understandable as time is needed to recoup from the flip flopping from Republican to Democratic administrations? Today though we were given the first chance to really hear the new president during his first official press conference. Comments from both sides of the aisle range from this is a sign of being back to basics to this being a constructed and produced event. But either way you spin it, America is certainly demanding to see more of the President.
Chris Johnson, a White House Reporter for LGBTQ publication, The Washington Blade, was one of the reporters who made his journey into the press room today and was detailing his experience via Twitter live. If you were watching along with Johnson, you noticed Biden didn’t take too many questions and abruptly ended his conference. Johnson was vocal on Twitter that he was disappointed an LGBTQ publication didn’t get the chance to ask the President any questions. I reached out to Johnson and he was able to briefly give us an exclusive rundown of his experience today and what he hopes is in store for the future.
In hindsight, I don't appreciate the White House having stuck reporters whom Biden ended up not calling on (myself included) in the back of the East Room for the presser.
I think we were even behind the cameras. Intentionally or not, it sent a signal we were wasting our time.
— Chris Johnson (@chrisjohnson82) March 25, 2021
Mickey Keating: I was reading your tweets and I was pretty irked that you got shut out from the press conference today. Do you think you were invited just so the White House could say they had a gay publication in attendance, even though you were ignored and literally put into the back corner?
Chris Johnson: The reason why we did get invited wasn’t because of the White House, but the White House Correspondence Association. Under the COVID-19 restrictions, there is an agreement that there will be a rotation for which reporters are seated in the White House briefing rooms. It just so happens today was my day and Biden was giving his first news conference. The Association was gracious enough to let us have a seat during COVID.
MK: I was reading your tweets, you were so excited to go! I was excited to see a gay publication there! But, perhaps representing a smaller (gay) company, I have felt shut out of events or red carpets for interviewing various persons because I am not a part of say Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, which I do understand sometimes. The fact that you didn’t get to ask a question to him and you were shouting questions as he was abruptly leaving…left me a little uneasy. What questions did you have for him?
CJ: One question I wanted to ask was about transgender rights. Biden has said transgender rights are the civil rights issue of our time. And that has evidence, especially with the senate confirmation of Rachel Levine yesterday. There’s a flurry of anti-transgender bills, especially the one that was sent to the desk of the Governor of Arkansas that could be signed any time now. I wanted to ask if he was going to stand by his campaign promise to sign an equality act within his first one-hundred days. That would have a big impact to give transgender protections in states that lack them. My second question that I wanted to squeeze in: Biden is a practicing Catholic, who has married a same-sex couple, and him being the former Vice President. I wanted to ask him about the Vatican statement against blessing same-sex nuptials. I want to know if he thinks the Catholic church will ever come around to support same-sex marriage. They didn’t know what questions I was going to ask him beforehand. I didn’t show my cards. But, I did send an email to Jen Psaki this morning and told her that it would be great if Biden would call on a LGBTQ publication during his first press conference – it would be the first time a President would have done this. She emailed me back saying ‘This sounds great!’. She didn’t promise me I’d get a question, but I got the impression that’s the direction they were going.
I had a feeling Biden wouldn’t call on me because I was seated in the rear of the East Room.
All the reporters getting questions were seated in the front. (Fox News’s Peter Doocy was also in the front, but wasn’t on Biden’s list.)
— Chris Johnson (@chrisjohnson82) March 25, 2021
MK: Do you think you’ll ever get to ask him these questions? Or is it within the rotation that now you’re bumped so far back and it will be a long time before you’re back in the press room?
CJ: I don’t know. I’m very frustrated. I was very excited! This is the first news conference for the new administration that has already made a lot of major policy achievements that have been beneficial for the LGBTQ community and breaking ground with diverse appointees. Everything was very organized. The White House aides did a roll call to make sure the people who were invited were there and the ones who weren’t were not. I went and saw my name on one of the seats and thought ‘Wow!’. And then as the conference was going on, I started to realize that I was seated in the back. Biden was only calling on the reporters who were in the first two rows. Then I realized how the cameras were set up, I’m behind the cameras… and I knew they weren’t going to call the five or six of us who were that far back. In hindsight, I found it to be very condescending. Essentially, [I] was wasting my time. I say that with reservations because I know Biden is bringing in a lot of immediate changes for the LGBTQ community after the Trump years. But, I just didn’t like how they had this laid out. The Washington Blade has been in the White House Press pool for awhile. I don’t feel like we need to prove ourselves as a reliable source of information. This is my third administration while working for The Washington Blade. I feel like they should be recognizing us as they would any other news outlet. [But] President Biden, during his campaign, he wasn’t as engaged with The Washington Blade as we would have liked. Certainly not from any previous Democratic nominee like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I had more engagement with Donald Trump than I did with Biden amid the campaign trail. Sadly, this is consistent with the engagement we have with him. Psaki does call on me regularly during briefings and she does have answers for me that our readers will appreciate, like his positions on policy. But, Biden himself has not been as forthcoming with us on the campaign trail or as a President. That’s not just us as a gay publication. This is the first news conference that Biden has given in his presidency. If you look at the statistics, this is the first time in a century that it’s taken this long for a President to give a news conference.
Thank you Chris Johnson for sharing your words about your experience today at Biden’s first press conference. We love having a presence in the White House so keep trying and thank you again.
Hearing that he was overlooked was troubling and we hope the rotation is favorable in the future and even more so as possible lessening of COVID restrictions will allow more reporters like Johnson to be in front of the cameras.
Biden’s Administration will be under a microscope as there were many promises made about LGBTQ representation and policies and practices. Those expectations the American people have, the LGBTQ citizens voted for, are going to be desired to be fulfilled.
What do you think Instincters?
– Do you think that there was a set of questions and approved reporters established for this first Biden press conference and maybe LGBTQ specific questions were not on that list for this go around?
– Should there have been LGBTQ topics addressed during the first press conference, because you know, for moderate candidate and politics?
We will have to wait and see when we’ll have Biden answering LGBTQ specific questions on a national stage as our elected leader in the future.
If you’ve missed Biden’s first press conference as President, you can check it out below:
Writer’s Note A: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.
Writer’s Note B: Quotes have been edited for clarity.