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Joe Biden, the nation's 46th president, has spoke in support of a free press in contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump who regularly attacked journalists, calling them the "enemy of the people." (Official White House portrait, public domain)

Joseph R. Biden Jr. was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1942. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware and a law degree from Syracuse University, and has spent most of his life as an elected official.

He served as a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009 and as vice president in the Barack Obama Administration from 2009 to 2017. He became president after defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 election. 

Biden took office days after U.S. Capitol riot

Trump’s allegations that the election had been “stolen” from him led to rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2001, that went far beyond the rights of “peaceable assembly” guaranteed by the First Amendment. Biden was inaugurated as president days after the riot under very tight security with Trump notably choosing to be absent. 

As president, Biden succeeded in getting Congress to adopt a bill providing for rebuilding U.S. infrastructure and has coordinated efforts by the U.S. and its NATO allies to provide aid to Ukraine after the Russian invasion. In the mid-term elections of 2022, his Democrat Party lost its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives but retained a narrow lead in the U.S. Senate.

In addition to being a lawyer, Biden was a long-time member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which questions nominees for the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. He taught constitutional law at Widener University in Wilmington, Delaware, for more than 20 years. 

Biden: 'A free press is a pillar of democracy'

Although Donald Trump received strong support from some right-wing news organizations such as Fox News and Breitbart News, he had a very antagonistic relationship with the rest of the press. Trump constantly attacked members of the press for broadcasting what he called “fake news.” At his raucous rallies, Trump often singled out reporters, especially from CNN, for their negative coverage of his administration. Alone among modern presidents, Trump refused to attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner and he often called the press, “the enemy of the people.” 

Biden has attempted to reestablish rapport with mainline media organizations and has shown support for First Amendment freedoms. Making light of his age at the 2023 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he claimed to have been good friends with James Madison, who largely authored the First Amendment. 

On World Press Freedom Day in 2023, Biden issued a statement that began with the words: “Journalism is not a crime — it is fundamental to a free society.” He proceeded to say that “a free press is a pillar of democracy. It allows our government and our society to be self-critical and self-correcting. It educates, illuminates, exposes, and covers. It serves as a guardian of truth.”

At the 2023 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Biden quoted Thomas Jefferson’s remark that “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate…to prefer the latter.”

He criticized foreign governments that had imprisoned American journalists, and quoted Black journalist Ida B. Wells who started an anti-lynching crusade in the 1890s  as saying, “The right way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon the wrongs.” “Turn the light of truth upon the wrongs.” 

Biden reestablished faith-based partnerships office

Biden, who is only the second U.S. president (John F. Kennedy was the first) to identify as a Roman Catholic, commemorated International Religious Freedom Day in 2021 by observing that the adoption of the International Religious Freedom Act had helped establish the United States “as the world’s leader in promoting and defending freedom of religion or belief for all people across the globe.”

He further described the “defense of religious freedom not only as an expression of our deepest values but also because it is a vital national security priority.”  

Shortly after becoming president, Biden reestablished the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The Biden Administration has been criticized, however, for governmental agency rules that are said to impinge on the rights of religiously motivated individuals or groups that have contracted to provide certain services to the government (Garnet and Kessler 2023).

Others have charged that the extension of Title IX rules relative to gender discrimination to gender identity and sexual orientation could be used to squelch dissenting views. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is among state governors who have accused federal agencies of perpetuating “wokeness” and who have supported state laws and regulations barring or limiting the discussion of controversial issues relating to race, particularly critical race theory, and gender from public school curricula. 

Biden Administration accused of censoring dissenting views 

In 2022, the states of Missouri and Louisiana filed suit against the Biden Administration claiming that high-level federal government officials engaged in a coordinated campaign to suppress disfavored views by pressuring social media companies, including Twitter, to remove or downgrade posts and stories, some about the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal officials argued that they only “sought to mitigate the hazards of online misinformation” by “calling attention to content” that violated the “platforms’ policies,” a form of permissible government speech.

In 2023, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld an injunction issued by a district judge to stop any actions by the federal agencies, which included the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FBI. The Biden Administration appealed to the Supreme Court, which issued a stay of the order and agreed to hear the case, Murthy v. Missouri, in 2024 to determine whether the the government's challenged conduct transformed private social-media companies’ content-moderation decisions into state action and violated First Amendment rights of those making the posts.

The Biden Administration also received criticism — and ended up disbanding — a short-lived Disinformation Governance Board that was created by the Department of Homeland Security. Critics likened the board to the “Ministry of Truth,” a propaganda machine that controlled information in George Orwell’s dystopian book, “1984,” and said it would impinge on Americans' free speech rights. The homeland security agency insisted its focus was on false information spread by foreign governments, particularly by Russia, China and other adversaries, and the board was an an effort to protect national security

Biden also, like Trump before him, has been particularly concerned about TikTok, a social media platform with ties to the People’s Republic of China, which he fears might harvest data from Americans who use the app to showcase videos. Beyond administrative federal rules against using TikTok on government devices, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress in February 2023 that would empower the U.S. government to ban or force the sale of foreign-owned applications that are deemed a threat to national security. In addition, a number of state governments have adopted laws prohibiting the use of TikTok by their employees on government-issued devices or by students connected to college and university WiFi. At least one state, Montana, passed a law barring the offering of the app to people in its state.

Biden appoints Ketanji Brown Jackson to Supreme Court

In June 2022, Biden appointed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, replacing Justice Stephen Breyer. 

John Vile is a professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University.

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