Images of President Joe Biden hanging his head during tense exchanges with reports after the deadly suicide attack in Kabul are being called by some a ‘defining’ moment of his presidency.
The memorable scene unfolded at the end of Biden’s press conference on Thursday, as Fox News reporter Peter Doocy pressed him on the disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, where 13 US troops and scores of Afghan civilians were killed in two suicide blasts.
The 78-year-old president was visibly emotional as he vowed revenge on ISIS-K, but while reporters from a pre-approved list asked him questions, he appeared lost for words at times and and frustrated in others, gripping his notebook and widening his eyes.
During the exchange with Doocy, Biden pressed the reporter to acknowledge that he remembered that Donald Trump had made a deal with the Taliban to withdraw — then hung his head down toward the podium as Doocy pressed him on whether the manner of the withdrawal had been sound.
Photos of the moment quickly spread around the globe, featuring on the front pages and websites of the liberal-leaning New York Daily News and Washington Post as well as the conservative-leaning Fox News and New York Post.
Local daily papers such as the Terre-Haute, Indiana Tribune Star, the Roanoke Times in Virginia, and the Hot Spring, Arkansas Sentinel-Record also featured the image on their front pages Friday.
Internationally, the UK Telegraph ran the photo prominently alongside a commentary stating that Biden ‘has blood on his hands and his presidency will not recover.’
Stripped of specific context, the image resonated across the political spectrum, with liberals interpreting it as a moment of somber, emotional reaction to the loss of US life, and conservatives insisting it portrayed shame and weakness.
The New York Daily News was among outlets featuring the image of Biden hanging his head, saying that the president was ’emotional’ as he vowed to ‘hunt down terrorists’
Fox News displayed the image in a banner above a headline claiming that Biden’s administration is ‘teetering’
The Washington Post featured the image with a headline calling the situation ‘the most volatile crisis of his presidency’
The UK Telegraph ran the photo alongside a political commentary stating that Biden ‘has blood on his hands and his presidency will not recover’
‘The deep grief on President Biden’s face as his eyes swelled with tears was painful to watch,’ wrote New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin. ‘But his personal suffering cannot exonerate him from the responsibility for what happened in Kabul.’
The Washington Post news section called Thursday’s attack ‘the most volatile crisis of his young presidency’ noting that ‘it may take time to show whether he can maintain his image as an able president with solid instincts.’
Republican strategist Matt Whitlock called the moment ‘a defining image’ while conservative commentator Benny Johnson similarly labeled it ‘the defining photo of the Biden Presidency.’
The conservative Daily Caller remarked on Twitter that the image was an ‘optics disaster’.
Writing for Fox News, opinion columnist James Jay Carafano said that Biden at the press conference had ‘delivered more excuses why the hole he dug isn’t getting deeper.’
The New York Times avoided using the image of Biden hanging his head. The newspaper noted in the news section that Biden’s defense of the Afghanistan withdrawal was ‘unlikely to satisfy his critics, including some members of his own party, who disagreed with the way Mr. Biden brought an end to the war.’
The Associated Press caption on a photo of Biden hanging his head described it thus: ‘President Joe Biden pauses as he listens to a question about the bombings at the Kabul airport that killed at least 12 U.S. service members.’
Speaking later on Thursday to his network, Doocy reflected on his exchange with Biden, which came at the end of the press conference.
Though Biden had a prepared list of reporters to call on, he appeared to go off-script when he called on Doocy, whom he called ‘the most interesting guy that I know in the press.’
‘We were happy that the president took our question on a day that is very somber and very important to a huge portion of our viewing audience,’ Doocy remarked later to Fox News host Sean Hannity. ‘It’s been a very somber day.’
President Joe Biden bowed his head as he listened to a question from Steve Doocy of Fox News as he took questions after giving an update on the situation in Afghanistan and the deaths of 13 servicemembers
The Drudge Report featured the image of Biden above the headline ‘Disaster’ on Friday
Some local newspapers such as the Terre Haute Tribune-Star led their front pages with an image of the moment
Doocy was one of the six members of the press the president called on at the briefing.
The reporter asked him: ‘There had not been a U.S. service member killed in combat since February of 2020. You set a deadline, you pulled troops out, you sent troops back in, and now 12 Marines are dead,’ using the death toll that has since been updated to confirm an extra fatality.
‘You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way things have unfolded the last two weeks?’ Doocy asked.
Biden griped his notebook with both hands and was quick with his first answer.
‘I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that’s happened of late,’ he responded.
He then tried to blame it on Donald Trump, saying Trump planned to be out by May 1 and that he delayed it.
‘You know – I wish one day you’d say these things. You know as well as I do that the former President made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return the was made – that was a year before.
‘In return for the commitment, the Taliban would continue to attack others but would not attack any American forces. Remember that? I’m being serious. I’m asking you a question,’ he said.
‘Is that accurate to the best of your knowledge, yes or no,’ said Biden, trying to get Doocy to commit to an answer about Trump’s blame in the affair.
‘The deep grief on President Biden’s face as his eyes swelled with tears was painful to watch,’ wrote New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin. ‘But his personal suffering cannot exonerate him from the responsibility for what happened in Kabul’
The Sentinel-Record of Arkansas also selected the iconic image for its front page on Friday
Though the moment was brief, it was captured by numerous photographers and became an iconic image for many
It came as Biden pressed Doocy to answer a question, but the reporter responded with his own question pressing Biden
Doocy responded by saying, ‘Do you think the people have an issue with the way things have happened?’
Clearly frustrated, Biden put his head in his hands.
He lifted his head, took a breath to compose himself and answered.
‘I think they have an issue that people are likely to get hurt. Some as we’ve seen have gotten killed, and that it is messy.
‘The reason why, whether my friend will acknowledge it or has reported it, the reason why there were no attacks on Americans as you said from the day I came into office was because a commitment was made by President Trump: I will be out by May 1.
‘In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans That was the deal. That’s why no American was attacked.’
Biden seemed content with his answer and braced for the follow up question. His eyes widened and his body tensed. His hands dropped to in front of his body.
‘So you squarely stand by your decision to pull out,’ Doocy asked.
The president dug his heels in and demonstratively said, ‘Yes, I do.’
‘Because look at it this way folks, and I have another meeting for real. But imagine where we’d be if I had indicated on May the first that I was not going to renegotiate an evacuation date. We were going to stay there,’ he said.
Thursday’s terror attack, which Biden attributed to ISIS-K, now poses a major political and military challenge
This is the bloody aftermath at Kabul airport on Friday. Blood-soaked clothes and discarded shoes are scattered across the ground in front of a lone Taliban fighter at one of the airport’s gates
‘I’d have only one alternative: to pour thousands of troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won relative to the reason why we went in the first place.
‘I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan, a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country.
‘And is made up of different tribes who have never ever ever got along with one another. So as I said before, and this is the last comment I’ll make, we’ll have a chance to talk about this unfortunately beyond because we are not out yet.
‘And so, as I said before — and this is the last comment I’ll make, but we’ll have more chance to talk about this, unfortunately, beyond, because we’re not out yet — if Osama bin Laden, as well as al Qaeda, had chosen to launch an attack — when they left Saudi Arabia — out of Yemen, would we have ever gone to Afghanistan? Even though the Taliban completely controlled Afghanistan at the time, would we have ever gone?
‘I know it’s not fair to ask you questions. It’s rhetorical. But raise your hand if you think we should have gone and given up thousands of lives and tens of thousands of wounded.
‘Our interest in going was to prevent al Qaeda from reemerging — first to get bin Laden, wipe out al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and prevent that from happening again.
‘As I’ve said 100 times: Terrorism has metastasized around the world; we have greater threats coming out of other countries a heck of a lot closer to the United States.
‘We don’t have military encampments there; we don’t keep people there. We have over-the-horizon capability to keep them from going after us.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war.’
Biden’s handling of the withdrawal has been almost universally condemned.