NYT: White House Supplying Radio Hosts with Questions for Biden Interviews; UPDATE: Team Biden Reverses

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Is this more evidence that the White House knows Joe Biden can't think or express himself extemporaneously? Or is it, as the White House claims, business as usual?


As a part-time radio host for the last 20-plus years and podcaster for the past 17, I have some experience with this issue. But it seems far more interesting to see the New York Times making this an issue now

The questions asked of President Biden by two radio interviewers this week were provided in advance to the hosts by Mr. Biden’s aides at the White House, one of the hosts said Saturday morning on CNN.

Andrea Lawful-Sanders, the host of “The Source” on WURD in Philadelphia, said White House officials provided her with a list of eight questions ahead of the interview on Wednesday.

“The questions were sent to me for approval; I approved of them,” she told Victor Blackwell, the host of “First of All” on CNN. Asked if it was the White House that sent the questions to her in advance, she said it was.

“I got several questions — eight of them,” she said. “And the four that were chosen were the ones that I approved.”

First off, let's marvel at Biden's poor performance in light of knowing which questions would come to him. The New York Times also covered that on Thursday, as Biden garbled his WURD interview by seeming to claim that he was "the first Black woman to serve with a Black president.” Biden also called Trump a "colleague," started then aborted a story involving Trump, and then claimed to be the first president elected statewide in Delaware. 


And all that was with preparation for presubmitted questions, according to the Gray Lady.

A Team Biden spokesperson shrugged it off, calling the practice "not uncommon" and that the interviewers were not required to use the questions. "In addition to these interviews, the president also participated in a press gaggle yesterday as well as an interview with ABC," Lauren Hitt told the NYT. "Americans have had several opportunities to see him unscripted since the debate.” They sure did, and I'm quite sure that Biden's performance in those instances didn't assuage the concerns about his cognitive status. 

To get to the main assertion that supplying questions is business as usual: Is this a common practice in radio interviews? Answering purely from my own experience: Yes ... and no. 

It depends on the interview subject. Book authors have interviews arranged by publishers and/or PR firms, and books get shipped to hosts ahead of the interview. (I wish they'd do more e-books, but ...) That package comes with a publicity kit that almost always includes several questions the author is prepared to answer. For the most part I avoid those, but they can be helpful for conversation focus if there's no time to read the book ahead of the interview. Authors are also largely focused on their own book and little else unless they are prolifically published. To a certain extent, the same is true for experts on various topics where the host has much less expertise. 


Even so, I rarely like to use prepared questions, mainly because I much prefer conversations to interrogations. I can only count on one hand the times where I stuck to a question list, and one or more of those involved management appearing on my show to address a very specific issue/event on air.

However, in my experience this is quite uncommon with politicians, especially those running for federal office. Those candidates and incumbents have to present themselves as generalists over a wide range of issues, and part of that means being able to exhibit the ability to extemporaneously discuss nearly anything. I can only recall two occasions where a politician's staff asked me to stick to prewritten questions, and I turned them down both times -- and still got the interviews. 

Would I have felt pressure to agree to ask only pre-scripted questions with a presidential contender to get the interview? Maybe, but I've interviewed several now and never got asked. The late John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and others felt perfectly comfortable contending with me in unscripted conversations, as well as many other candidates for the House and Senate over the last several years. None of them to my recollection ever provided "suggested" questions, and only a few might have even suggested topics. (One of my favorite moments in these interviews was my conversation with Huckabee about the movie Billy Jack.)


Besides, campaigns have more subtle ways to ensure soft landings for candidates in trouble. They seek out media allies and offer them the interviews. Usually that's all that's needed, as these allies are invested in the candidate and/or party and want to promote the candidate. That's not a guarantee, and even ally hosts do want to ask some fair questions to make sure the candidate is well tested, but the notion of supplying questions to allies is rather strange. If a campaign is worried about tough questions, they pick a friendlier venue. It's not as though those venues would be tough to find. 

And speaking of allies, let's get back to the New York Times blowing the whistle on a Democrat president in this manner. Two weeks ago, the NYT was gaslighting its readers by amplifying the "cheap fakes" propaganda from the White House. Now they're essentially claiming that the White House is setting up cheap-fake interviews for Biden in an attempt to keep the cover-up over his senility in place. 

That is a whiplash-inducing reversal by the editors, and yet another indicator of a media preference cascade that's growing by the day, and maybe by the hour. 

Update: After first insisting that it's totes normal to script news interviews, Team Biden now tells Daily Beast reporter Jake Lahut that they'll stop sending questions:


“While interview hosts have always been free to ask whatever questions they please, moving forward we will refrain from offering suggested questions.”

Apparently, they didn't expect the media to call them out like this:

Why?? Does that question even need to be asked?

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