‘That is Not the Judgment of the Press’: The White House Calls the Media to Heel With Disinformation Campaign

by | Feb 10, 2024

“That is not the judgment of the press.” Those words from President Joe Biden were a telling moment after a reporter noted that there is widespread concern that he is mentally diminished. Biden’s cranky response was overshadowed by his confusion on other points during the press conference, including mixing up the presidents of Egypt and Mexico. However, it captured the sense of license and expectation of the Biden White House that the press is supposed to toe the line, as it has for three years.

In the disastrous press conference, CNN correspondent MJ Lee reminded Biden that he had urged Americans to “watch me” when he was confronted over his age: “Many [of the] American people have been watching, and they have expressed concerns about your age.”

The President angrily responded: “That is your judgment!. That is your judgment! That is not the judgment of the press.”

The next day, many in the media came to Biden’s defense and attacked the Special Counsel report which detailed his “diminished faculties.” Others cleaned up the remark about the press. Biden clearly stated “That is your judgment! That is your judgment. That is not the judgment of the press.”

NBC did not include the line in articles on the press conference despite showing it on the live coverage. Roll Call actually edited the President’s remarks to insert “for” in the key line: “That is not the judgment [for] the press.” That changed the line from questioning the right of the press to make such judgments to telling a reporter what the press view should be. Even if it was a Freudian slip, it was a telling slip. Other media inserted or suggested “public” rather than the press in the line.

The obvious exasperation of the President reflects years of a passive, enabling media that shielded Biden from difficult questions on various scandals, including the corruption scandal.

What was striking, however, was the degree to which President Biden and his staff spent this week putting out clearly false statements.  In an administration that has pushed for the censorship of citizens accused of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation, the President openly lied about his conduct and the report.

President Biden, for example, stated that the Special Counsel report found that he did not willfully retain material. It found the opposite . . . repeatedly.

He stated that he did not disclose classified material to his ghostwriter.  Special Counsel Hur found precisely the opposite.

Biden stated that the material was not highly classified with “that red stuff…around the corners.” In fact, Hur found that the material was “highly sensitive,” including an Afghanistan-related memo from the National Security Adviser to President Barack Obama in 2009 marked “TOP SECRET/SCI” (Sensitive Compartmented Information).

Biden stated that all of the material was kept in locked or lockable filing cabinets. That was a lie. As the pictures vividly demonstrated, Hur found material in unlocked areas and virtually spilling out of torn boxes in his garage.

What is notable is that Biden works almost entirely off teleprompters, reading statements clearly crafted by his staff. That would indicate that some of these comments were promulgated by staff.

Even in the press conference on Friday, Ian Sams, spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office ran into a skeptical reporter in the form of Jon Decker, the White House correspondent for Gray Television. Decker is the former head of the White House Correspondents Association and one of my former students. Decker is the gold standard for reporters and has always been objective, tough, and fair. His approach has not changed from the Trump to the Biden Administration.

Decker challenged Sam on coming to the podium to address the President’s statements and proceeding to make a false claim that this is the first Special Counsel to end his investigation without charges.

So why would the White House risk looking like it is going full “Baghdad Bob” in denying readily observable facts? Because this is no real risk.

The reason was evident the day after the report. While usually supportive outlets had to acknowledge the President’s false claims, media figures from MSNBC and CNN quickly fell into line and launched a full attack on Hur, often repeating identical words used by the White House about his observations being “gratuitous.” The problem is Hur, not a President who not only appeared confused in the press conference but openly lied about various established facts.

We have previously written how the level of advocacy and bias in the press has created a danger of a de facto state media in the United States. It is possible to have such a system by consent rather than coercion. The Biden White House has become more open in its marching orders to media, including a letter drafted by the Biden White House Legal Counsel’s Office calling for major media to “ramp up their scrutiny” of House Republicans.

The Decker-Sams exchange is key in this regard. I have previously noted that Sams is now actively managing a media campaign to blunt investigations into the President’s conduct and the alleged corruption by his family. As Decker noted, he is not a lawyer but has used that office to put an official imprimatur on these false statements. That could prove precarious in the weeks to come as the House explores impeachment allegations against the President. The use of White House staff for such purposes has been cited in past impeachment articles.

Reprinted with permission from JonathanTurley.org.


  • Jonathan Turley

    Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.

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