The U.S. ‘doorstep’ interview

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The U.S. ‘doorstep’ interview

The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A group of reporters were waiting for U.S. President Joe Biden at the helipad on the South Lawn of the White House on June 17. After the president appeared with First Lady Jill Biden, a reporter asked about oil companies’ responsibility for rising prices. As if he had been waiting for that question, Biden said that oil companies’ prices were too high. As he went on to explain rising prices, the first lady nudged him to leave. If it weren’t for the intervention, Biden would have spoken longer.

This is the U.S. presidential “doorstep interview,” as it is open to all correspondents and any questions. As Biden travels often and goes to his residence in Delaware every weekend, reporters can ask questions multiple times a week. While his answers may sound improvised, they don’t deviate much from previous statements or White House briefings.

Biden doesn’t have to give long answers each time as the session next to the loud helicopter cannot last long. But Biden often gets onto the helicopter without answering any questions, controlling whether he speaks or not and how long he would speak. That day, the final, unexpected, question was when he would visit India. He responded that he visited India twice already and would make another visit.

The facial expression of a president dealing with the media, length of the remarks and each word used are political and diplomatic messages. President Yoon Suk-yeol’s doorstep interviews may have started with good intentions, but he was criticized for it. At the press conference marking his 100th day in office on July 17, Yoon confessed that he was told to stop the doorstep interviews because his rating was falling. But Yoon said he would continue the interviews to show himself as he is. If so, he must think about the format and prepare more thoroughly.

The White House and State Department spokespersons spend the entire morning preparing for questions from reporters at their daily briefing in the afternoon. They coordinate with ministries and agencies on sensitive issues to send consistent messages. But it is questionable whether Yoon’s presidential office makes such preparations.

If Yoon wants to make the doorstep interviews the symbol of his administration, or a tradition to be continued into the next administration, the president’s improvisation alone won’t be enough.
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