As President Joe Biden shied away from interviews and press conferences in the first year of his administration, his chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci took over the spotlight, sitting down for nearly five times as many interviews as the president.
According to an analysis by the Washington Free Beacon, Fauci gave at least 145 interviews in 2021, compared with just 22 interviews and 9 press conferences offered by Biden. Two of those interviews given by Biden were with nontraditional media organizations, such as his Feb. 3 interview with People magazine and his March 31 interview with ESPN.
Despite his lengthy press conference on Wednesday, Biden significantly trails his predecessors in time spent with news outlets. His predecessor, Donald Trump, held 92 interviews and 22 press conferences during his first year in office. Former president Barack Obama held 156 interviews and 27 press conferences.
Biden's strategy of avoiding direct scrutiny from the press has resulted in criticism from left-leaning organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists. A Jan. 13 report from the group stated that "press freedom advocates remain concerned about issues like the president's limited availability to journalists [and] the administration's slow responses to requests for information."
"Biden relies more on prepared remarks that he has read on television from a teleprompter, taking few or no questions from reporters kept some distance away, behind the teleprompter and the cameras," the report reads.
Fauci, meanwhile, may be the most press-friendly government bureaucrat in recent history. At 145 interviews, the nation's leading medical expert was on television every two-and-a-half days last year.
Nearly all of Fauci's appearances can be attributed to his role as a spokesman for the federal government's response to COVID-19, although he hasn't been subtle about his love for the spotlight. His repeated media appearances have resulted in a book deal as well as a role as the subject of a Disney documentary. A scene from that documentary shows Fauci sitting at a desk in his office with a large portrait of his own mug on an adjacent wall.
When asked about Biden's lack of public appearances, White House press secretary Jen Psaki shrugged off the question and insisted that the "American people have seen him out there, answering questions."
"He will continue to be," she added. "That's an important part of his engagement with the press and the public."
Recent surveys show broad dissatisfaction from voters on Biden's presidency, with 42.6 percent viewing him favorably, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls. His job approval rating is even lower, according to RealClearPolitics‘s average, sitting at 40.5 percent with 55.3 percent of voters disapproving.
During his press conference on Wednesday, Biden signaled that he would be more public-facing in the new year. After being asked by a reporter what he has to say to black voters "who say that you do not have their backs," Biden lamented that he has not had the opportunity "to look people in the eye, because of both COVID and things that are happening in Washington."
"Number one, I'm going to get out of this place more often. I'm going to go out and talk to the public. I'm going to do public fora," Biden said. "I'm going to interface with them. I'm going to make the case of what we've already done, why it's important, and what we'll do if—what will happen if they support what else I want to do."