White House defends Biden saying Indian media is ‘better behaved’ than US

‘I thought Modi had said this when I heard about it, but nope that’s the American president’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 27 September 2021 21:27
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White House defends Biden saying Indian media is ‘better behaved’ than US

The White House has defended President Joe Biden’s comments that the Indian media is “better behaved” than the US press corps.

As Mr Biden sat down with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 September, he said: “The Indian press is much better behaved than the American press … I think, with your permission, you could not answer questions because they won’t ask any questions on point.”

“I thought Modi had said this when I heard about it, but nope that’s the American president,” Katie Rogers of The New York Times tweeted.

Christian Datoc of the conservative Washington Examiner added that the comment was “pretty Trumpian”.

According to Reporters Without Borders, India is ranked 142nd in the world when it comes to press freedom.

“Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure has increased on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line,” the organisation writes on its website. “Indians who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to radical right-wing Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the public debate.”

In 2020, four journalists were killed in the country in relation to their work as reporters.

The White House transcript of the meeting with Mr Modi didn’t include Mr Biden’s comments comparing the Indian and US press.

“I think what he said is that [press questions] are not always on point. Now I know that isn’t something that anyone wants to hear in here,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.

“What I think he was conveying is that, you know, today he wanted to talk about Covid vaccines – some of the questions were about that, some of the questions are not always about the topic he’s talking about that day,” Ms Psaki added.

The US ranked 44th in the world for press freedom in 2020.

“The first 100 days of Joseph R Biden’s presidency saw healthy improvements to government accountability and transparency. For example, the White House and government agencies reinstated regular press briefings from day one and authorities, who had previously been muzzled, were able to communicate accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic to the American public,” Reporters Without Borders states.

Mr Biden has both praised the value of journalism and reporters, but has also at times expressed frustration with the coverage of him and his administration, as well as the questions he’s asked when he interacts with the press corps.

In late July, Mr Biden was sitting on the Oval Office with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, when NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell asked Mr Biden about the announcement by Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough that frontline VA employees would have to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Smiling, Mr Biden said: “You are such a pain in the neck, but I’m going to answer your question because we’ve known each other for so long.”

“It has nothing to do with Iraq … I’ll answer your question. Yes, Veteran Affairs is going to, in fact, require that all doctors working in their facilities are going to have to be vaccinated,” he added.

After a reporter asked Mr Biden about Israel as he was test-driving an electrical Ford pickup truck, the president joked about running over the journalist.

Following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland in June, Mr Biden lost his temper with CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Collins asked Mr Biden why he was confident that Mr Putin would change his behaviour.

“I’m not confident he’ll change his behaviour,” Mr Biden said. “Where the hell ... what do you do all the time. When did I say I was confident?”

“What I said was — let’s get it straight — I said, ‘What will change their behaviour is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world,’” Mr Biden added. “I’m not confident of anything. I’m just stating a fact.”

Collins pushed Mr Biden further, asking him how the meeting could have been “constructive”.

“If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business,” Mr Biden snapped.

But it didn’t take long for Mr Biden to walk back his comments.

“I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave,” Mr Biden later told reporters, but he also complained that he never receives positive questions.

“To be a good reporter, you got to be negative, that you got to have a negative view of life, it seems to me,” Mr Biden said at the time.

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