Source: Chris J. Krisinger

Throughout his campaign and the early days of his presidency, President Biden made grand promises and pledges to the American people of unity and a return to normalcy and civility.  He also put forth another related promise on his inauguration day that his aides may need to remind him that he made.

During the swearing in ceremony of appointees later that day, President Biden dispensed a promise, accompanied by a frank message to the some 1,000 people that would work for him during his term in office: respect others.

But I am not joking when I say this, if you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect… talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot… On the spot.  No ifs, ands or buts.  Everybody.. everybody… is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity.  That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.

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It is rare candor for a leader to make such a sharp declaration about respectful behavior, but recent events challenge his veracity in making such a statement.  Does the President calling a member of the White House press corps a “stupid son-of-a-bitch,” or a reporter’s question “stupid” in front of their press colleagues and peers while in a public setting, lower the bar he himself set for “decency and dignity,” to which he added, “everybody is entitled”?

Well, it happened.  In just short of a week, he laid into three different reporters who proffered questions not to his liking.  In a major hot mic gaffe, President Biden was caught calling Fox News’ Peter Doocy a “stupid son of a bitch.”  Biden’s comment came after the official White House video feed to YouTube was cut, but before C-SPAN’s feed ended.  Following Biden’s opening remarks to a cabinet-level meeting addressing inflation, White House staff were trying to usher members of the press from the room when Doocy shouted his questions: “Will you take questions on inflation?  Do you think inflation is a political liability in the midterms?”  Biden, seemingly unaware that his mic was still on and being fed to broadcast networks including C-SPAN, ended his brief response with, “What a stupid son of a bitch.”

Then, just last week on the day after his recent lengthy news conference, President Biden lashed out at a reporter for a question about Russia potentially invading Ukraine.  As reporters were led out of a science-focused meeting next door to the White House, Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich shouted, “Why are you waiting on [Russian President] Putin to make the first move, sir?”  The president, chuckling, responded to her query with: “What a stupid question.”

Others defended Heinrich’s question on its merits — saying that preemptive U.S. action to deter a possible Russian invasion would be wise.  “It isn’t a stupid question,” wrote a former Obama administration official, “It’s a really important one.  We continue to allow Putin to set the terms, timeline, and trajectory of this crisis.  It’s time we stop being so reactive and start creating some of our own conditions.”

Biden’s terse dismissal of Heinrich was the second time in as many days the president snapped at a reporter for asking something he didn’t like.  During only his second solo White House press conference the day prior, Biden implied that Real Clear Politics reporter Philip Wegmann might not know how to read when Wegmann questioned Biden on his controversial speech on voting rights in Atlanta earlier in the month.

There the President had used surprisingly incendiary language to claim Republicans who opposed federal election reform legislation would be seen as “on the side of” infamous historical racists.  Wegmann later noted that Biden “has been prickly lately,” while the White House was already in damage control to clarify Biden’s statement from the previous day’s press conference suggesting a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine would prompt a less serious U.S. response.

While there is always to be a certain expected tension between the White House and the press covering it (or at least there should be), were these events indicative of the President’s own seeming disregard for how “everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity?”  While the President will likely not fire himself for violating his own edict, is it too much for the American public to expect that he abide by the policy that he himself set the terms for?  Great leaders are known for leading by and setting the example.  After all, he is the President that pledged to the nation unity and a return to civility and normalcy.