After Joe Biden’s first presidential press conference last week, White House reporters drew substantial criticism for their performance, which included ignoring the pandemic and other important issues. The episode raises the question of how American political journalism will transition from covering the norm-breaking, press-bashing Donald Trump to reporting on a more conventional president, with a more conventional relationship to the press. Will the media go easy on Biden, or will they overcompensate with displays of toughness to prove they can match the approach they took with his predecessor? Did the Trump era change political reporting in lasting ways? And what will be the effect of the economics of the news, including the deflation in ratings and readerships since Trump left the scene?

For Frank Sesno, a former journalist who spent two decades at CNN—including as a White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief—and the former director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University, the transition from Trump to Biden has been, and will continue to be, a major adjustment for American political media. They’re early in the process, Sesno says, of readjusting to a president who focuses on policy, without the personality-driven spectacles Trump regularly created—as they continue to figure out how to report on the broader political and cultural realities that helped bring Trump to the White House in the first place.


Graham Vyse: How is the U.S. political press approaching Biden so far?

Frank Sesno: What I see the press doing is trying to measure Biden’s promises with what he’s actually doing and going to deliver. There are some who say it’s a honeymoon—that by comparison to Trump the press is giving Biden a soft launch.

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