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The Discussion

4 factors no president ought to wish to provide an interview

A president’s credibility is much safer when he remains in the Oval Workplace instead of offering an interview. Mandel Ngan/AFP through Getty ImagesBy mid-March 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden had actually not provided an interview because his inauguration – the longest that a brand-new president has actually gone without holding an interview in 100 years. The Associated Press and The Washington Post kept in mind that Presidents Donald Trump and Expense Clinton had actually each held 5 interview by this time in their presidencies. President Barack Obama had actually held 2 and President George W. Bush had actually held 3. On March 16, White Home Press Secretary Jen Psaki revealed Biden would hold one on March 25. As a scholar of political interaction and public relations, I have actually released research studies of governmental interview, taking a look at the impacts of reporters’ asking difficult concerns, thinking about political leaders’ various techniques and observing the impacts on citizens. While critics indicate different intentions behind Biden’s avoidance, empirical proof and my research study recommend factors no president ought to wish to provide an interview. President Harry Truman, offering his very first White Home interview, on April 17, 1945. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone through Getty Images Dodging concerns – or not Prior to going over the dangers of a governmental interview, I wish to state that I think that public servants are derelict in their tasks if they decline to deal with journalism. The White Home Correspondents’ Association implicated Biden of doing not have “accountability to the public.” And ABC News questioned Biden’s openness and responsibility. However while democracy might require such responsibility from a president, interview absolutely are dangerous for them. The first reason to avoid a press conference is that reporters might accuse the president of dodging questions. And viewers are likely to believe the allegations – regardless of what the president actually said. The tendency of political journalists to accuse presidents of deflecting questions has increased in recent decades and has become fairly common. For example, early in the pandemic, President Trump held daily press conferences. The live events garnered a large viewership akin to major sports matches or hit TV sitcoms. They featured journalists accusing Trump of evading questions. During the 2020 campaign, Biden was accused of dodging questions by numerous media outlets on issues both foreign and domestic. A campaign spokesperson was even accused of dodging a question about Biden dodging questions. I ran an experiment testing the effects of a journalist accusing politicians of evasion. The voters in the study all saw the same questions and answers. For half of the voters, though, I edited the video to insert the journalist accusing the politician of dodging in an answer. Voters who saw the journalist making the allegation believed the politician indeed dodged. Voters who saw the identical interview without the allegation of evasion thought the politician gave adequate answers. What’s more: The politician shown in the experiment had not actually dodged. Voters seem to believe a reporter and disbelieve a politician. The voters seemed to have a “truth-default” leading them to automatically presume they are being told the truth by political reporters without any suspicion being raised. No good answer A second factor to prevent press conferences is that questions will tend to be unanswerable. As has been documented by decades of data, journalists frequently ask about controversial topics, and they word their questions in tricky ways. Reporters formulate questions that often focus on divisive issues. To questions like this, there is no politically advantageous answer. Based on my research, journalists covering the White House tend to ask about topics that divide the country – such as abortion or gun control – for which any direct answer would offend some group of voters. A press conference’s time constraints, with the audience expecting short answers to massive problems, can also make it impossible to give an adequate answer. You can’t win A third reason is that even if a question is not divisive, and the president answers it, many voters will still think the president is being deceptive. I ran an experiment in which I filmed an interview of a politician either dodging or answering a journalist’s question, and I manipulated whether the politician had a “D” or “R” next to his name. Regardless of what the politician actually said, Republican voters thought the politician was deceptive when he was a Democrat, and vice versa for Democratic voters. Simply by having a party label, a president’s press conference will likely be skewed through a partisan lens no matter what he says. President George W. Bush got defensive during his final press conference, on Jan. 12, 2009. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images TMI – too much information A final reason for a president to avoid giving an interview: Research reveals that official events, such as formal news conferences, do not make a president seem presidential. Historically, the more the public gets to know the president, the more they dislike him. As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” My own research has revealed why a president might become more unpresidential the more he holds press conferences. Being perceived as “presidential” can depend on voters’ perceptions of the condition of the nation, and politicians must match their word choices to voters’ personal situations. The more a politician’s words inevitably diverge from voters’ feelings and experiences, the less presidential he will seem to them. Altogether, presidents probably will lose stature, not gain it, by holding a press conference. Journalists hold the upper hand, asking questions that pose a rhetorical minefield and wielding the power to implicate the president of evasion. And voters will tend to believe journalists’ criticism of the president even if the president honestly answers their concerns. Even without reporters’ interference, presidents will be disbelieved by about half the populace, and the more they talk the more they become unpresidential. Of course, if what the president is aiming for is not strategic expediency, but simply fulfilling an obligation to be held accountable in his role, then the country wins when he holds a press conference – and in that way he does, too. [You’re too busy to read everything. We get it. That’s why we’ve got a weekly newsletter. Sign up for good Sunday reading. ]This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: David E. Clementson, University of Georgia. Read more:A brief history of presidents disclosing – or trying to hide – health problemsTrump craves good press from the ‘fake news’ media – just look at his White House newsletter David E. Clementson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has actually disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their scholastic visit.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.