WASHINGTON: As hot mic moments go, it was a red hot one. US President Joe Biden, whose folksy idioms and frequent gaffes is the stuff of Washington lore, added to his reputation on Monday by referring to a Fox News reporter as “a stupid son of b*tch.” Biden later phoned the reporter Peter Doocy to “clear the air” and tell him it was “nothing personal.” But in the hours after the episode, political and media circles was roiling with discussion centering on coarsening of public discourse in a permissive, social media drive age, and testy relations between US Presidents and partisan journalists. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump publicly called reporters stupid, nasty, and a loser, among other things, and once mocked a differently-abled journalist. Biden himself, when he was vice-president, whispered in then President Obama’s ears that signing the Affordable Care Act was a “big f*cking deal” — a remark that could be heard over the mic. Going further back, George Bush had referred to a New York Times reporter as a “major-league a**hole” in another hot mic episode. Hot mic typically refers to a situation when the speaker is not aware that the microphone is live. But in this instance, Biden’s remark was more in the nature of sotto voce, a quiet aside not meant to be overhead. Reporters were being hustled out of a White House photo-op with the President when Doocy called out with a question: “Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?” Biden paused for a moment before snarkily responding, “No, it’s a great asset. More inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.” Doocy apparently did not immediately hear the remark and was told of it later. He eventually took it sportingly, explaining in a Fox News appearance that he appreciated the President taking a few minutes to call him amid the pressure of his job. Asked by Fox News host Sean Hannity if Biden had apologised, Doocy said “Sean, the world is on the brink of, like, World War III right now with all this stuff going on. I appreciate that the president took a couple minutes out this evening while he was still at the desk to give me a call and clear the air.” The episode underscored the partisan questioning that has become the stock-in-trade at White House briefings. Doocy is part of a conservative, Republican leaning group of reporters who subject Biden to tough questioning, just the way reporters of a liberal bent grilled Trump during the previous presidency. The Washington press corps itself being of a largely liberal persuasion, Doocy found few sympathisers among fellow scribes. “Calling Peter Doocy a stupid son of a b*tch is actually a bipartisan tradition that originated with John McCain,” said one social media post, referring to the late Senator once asking Doocy, “Why would you say something that stupid? Why would you ask something as dumb?” after the reporter asked him about his opposition to then President Trump. Others pointed to Doocy’s Trump era Twitter profile photo showing him kicking up his feet behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office to say it “speaks to the fact that he’s not a journalist. He’s a Republican political operative.” Republicans on their part recalled that Biden had said during the start of his presidency that he’d fire any staff member “on the spot” who don’t treat others with respect. “Only one year later and he called Peter Doocy a “stupid son of a b*tch” on camera. Don’t worry Joe, the American people can’t wait to fire you in 2024,” one Republican supporter tweeted.

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