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As Biden concludes first year in office, press freedom advocates share their priorities

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In the coming days the minute-by-minute stories about President Biden's victories, defeats and struggles will be joined by sweeping reviews of the president's first year in office. The Fox crowd says he's already a failure. Some in the progressive wing are almost as critical. More sober or at least less partisan minds, like history professor Julian Zelizer, say Biden's current challenges are very real, but "they shouldn't be seen as a clear indication of where his presidency is headed." In this CNN Opinion column, Zelizer notes that "we have seen many presidents recover from a difficult start."

For the purposes of this analysis, I want to zoom in on Biden's relationship with the press corps, which is the topic of this new Committee to Protect Journalists special report by Leonard Downie Jr.

Downie previously evaluated Donald Trump's damaging attacks against the media. Obviously, Biden's rhetoric "is a stark contrast" to Trump's viciousness, he wrote. "However, one year into the Biden administration, press freedom advocates remain concerned about issues like the president's limited availability to journalists, the administration's slow responses to requests for information, its planned extradition of Julian Assange, restrictions on media access at the U.S. southern border, and its limited assistance to Afghan journalists."

Downie spoke with 30+ journalists, academics, advocates, and White House officials. His report is a well-rounded look at the push and pull between the presidency and the press corps. It concludes with some recommendations from CPJ...

Biden's #1 topic: Covid

Ahead of Biden's one-year anniversary in office, CNN's Sam Fossum and Betsy Klein compiled records of his public remarks. Since inauguration day, Biden has made remarks at least 263 times, not counting interviews. "Biden has most frequently spoken about the coronavirus pandemic (56 times), followed by his domestic agenda (48 times), and the economy more broadly (31 times)," they found. "The President has made remarks on foreign policy 26 times and spoken 15 times on various natural disasters. Other topics of note include political speeches (10), gun violence (5), and voting rights and democracy (4)."

What the press corps wants

More access. As this recent AP story demonstrates, Biden holds fewer press conferences and grants fewer interviews than his recent predecessors. He holds informal Q&A sessions more often, but in the words of White House Correspondents Association president Steven Portnoy, "the historical record of a presidency requires more than fleeting Q&A."

"The free people of the world benefit when the American president demonstrates his willingness to stand for questions," Portnoy told VOA. "We believe more formal opportunities to engage the president on a broad range of public concerns would be in the public interest."

>> Patsy Widakuswara's story for VOA is titled "Under Biden, Press Given Respect but Not Access..."

Further reading

-- NBC's Kelly O'Donnell: "The president declined to take questions today and continued his COVID briefing off camera. As we left I said, 'Maybe a press conference soon Mr. President? We would look forward to that.' And the president responded, 'Me too.'" (Twitter)

-- Zachary B. Wolf says "two bits of breaking news Thursday made it painfully clear to President Joe Biden how limited his power actually is..." (CNN)

-- NYT chief WH correspondent Peter Baker writes: "Hasn't been a good season for Biden's powers of persuasion. He couldn't convince the Senate to pass Build Back Better or voting rights, the Supreme Court to sign off on his vaccine plan or the Russians to back off Ukraine. What will be Plan B?" (Twitter)

-- VP Kamala Harris's response to Craig Melvin's questions about the administration's response to the pandemic "quickly became a meme" on Thursday, "with comparisons to scenes from TV shows like The Office and Veep..." (Politico)

-- Mike Memoli has struck a deal with Twelve Books to write "The Long Run," a book about Biden, to be published after the 2024 election... (Axios)

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