On Monday, January 24, 2022, after five in the afternoon local time, an entire president of the United States called “son of a bitch” to a journalist that he simply asked him a question at a White House press briefing.
We were a handful of journalists, including this correspondent, in the East Room of the White House at a brief speech by Joe Biden before a meeting of the President’s Competitiveness Council.
The president spoke about the economy and his measures to promote a fairer capitalism before prominent ministers such as the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, or the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, in a solemn golden room, decorated with two gigantic portraits of Martha and George Washington, the first presidential family.
When the president has finished talking about competitiveness, which he has done for a few minutes, we journalists launch into shouting questions about the crisis in Ukraine, and about details of his conversation with European leaders moments before.
At the end of a Biden photo op, when reporters shouted Q’s hoping he’d respond, Fox’s Peter Doocy asked, “Do you think inflation is a political liability in the midterms?” Biden deadpanned: “It’s a great asset—more inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.” pic.twitter.com/Tt4ZVz5Ynj
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 24, 2022
After all, the Pentagon had just stated that it was putting 8,500 soldiers for the Russian threat to Ukraine. It was necessary to raise your voice because the president was alone, at the other end of the room, presiding over a square-shaped table. We journalists did not have microphones, but Biden did, and he did not wear a mask, since he takes it off when he gives speeches.
The president then complained that we correspondents asked when it wasn’t time, that today it was time to talk about competitiveness, and his press assistants began to evacuate us from the room. Biden only said that his video meeting with the European partners had been excellent, and that he would expand further.
Then the Fox News correspondent, Peter Doocy, hung back a little and kept shouting questions, none of them extemporaneous. “Do you think inflation is a political risk for you?”
And there, as White House press employees ushered us out of the room, Biden said, into a microphone that was not turned off, and had never been off: “He is a great asset. More inflation? You stupid son of a bitch.”
The truth is that those of us who were leaving the East Room at that time, through the basement where the portraits of the first ladies are, to the press room, in the West Wing, did not notice what the president had said. However, the appearance was being broadcast on the Internet and the political network CSPAN, and the rest of the world did hear it.
Upon entering the press room, almost empty because it is the middle of the pandemic, CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins said to Doocy, the insulted one: “Did you hear what the president told you?” Doocy hadn’t heard of it, but it was soon trending on social media. His first reaction seemed to be disbelief.
It is true that Doocy has his frequent moments of tension with the president and his spokesperson, Jen Psaki, because he is given to questions that are sometimes frontally critical. On this occasion, it was strictly limited to formulating a lawful question and at the center of the political debate, since year-on-year inflation, at 7%, reaches levels not seen for four decades.
After the troubled years of Donald Trump, his accusations that the press was a liar, an enemy of the people, “fake news”, Biden promised a change. Trump, however, never called any journalist a “son of a bitch” in the White House, no matter how acidic his criticism of the industry.
Collins, the CNN journalist, was already disrespected by Biden in June 2021, in Geneva, after a summit with Vladimir Putin. “Why are you confident that [Putin] switch to?”. Biden, with his finger raised, silencing her, replied: “What the hell? What do you do all the time? When have I said to be confident?. Then he apologized to her.
Upon taking office a year ago, Biden told his employees that he expected them to treat everyone with respect. “If you work with me and I hear that you treat another colleague with disrespect … you speak badly to someone, I promise you that I will fire you on the spot,” he said.