Biden staffers have prescreened reporters ahead of Jen Psaki’s briefings to see what they plan to ask the White House press secretary, according to a report from the left-wing Daily Beast.
The outlet cited “three sources with knowledge of the matter” and “written communications” that revealed that the Biden administration has “already on occasion probed reporters to see what questions they plan on asking new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when called upon during briefings” less than two weeks into the new administration.
The report suggests that Psaki would have some idea of what reporters plan to ask prior to formally presenting their questions. Despite that, her “circle back” answers on tough questions have become a staple of her press briefings. It remains unclear which, if any, reporters cooperated with the administration’s inquiries. Leaders of the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) have reportedly urged reporters not to accommodate the administration in that capacity:
“I often note I’m going to circle back. I hate to disappoint conservative Twitter but I’m going to circle back on a number of things as we often do directly,” she said on Monday following mounting critiques from social media users highlighting her seeming inability to directly answer questions on the spot:White House
According to the Daily Beast, the Biden administration’s actions have sparked a sense of paranoia among the White House press corps, “whose members, like many reporters, are sensitive to the perception that they are coordinating with political communications staffers”:
One reporter raised the issue during an informal White House Correspondents Association Zoom call last Friday. According to multiple sources, leaders at the meeting advised print reporters to push back against requests by the White House press team to learn of questions in advance, or simply to not respond to the Biden team’s inquiries.
The concerns follow the demonstrative shift in attitude that coincided with former President Trump’s departure from the White House. In the weeks leading up to inauguration day, CNN reporters, specifically, previewed their forthcoming change in coverage, admitting that they would cover Biden’s administration differently.
“I don’t think the press should be trying to whip up the Biden presidency and turn it into must-see TV in a contrived way,” CNN’s Jim Acosta said in an Atlantic piece published in December. In the piece, CNN reporter Daniel Dale, too, stated that his job would “not be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job to fact-check Biden” because “the simple reality is that Biden doesn’t lie nearly as often as Trump does.”
However, the Biden administration’s pre-screening of questions continues to cause concern among reporters.
“The press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want,” a White House correspondent said, according to the Daily Beast. “That’s not really a free press at all.”
A White House spokesperson told the outlet that the primary goal remains to “make the daily briefing as useful and informative as possible for both reporters and the public.”
“Part of meeting that objective means regularly engaging with the reporters who will be in the briefing room to understand how the White House can be most helpful in getting them the information they need,” the spokesperson continued, touting the “two-way communication” as an “important part of keeping the American people updated about how government is serving them.”
In an interview with NPR released over the weekend, Psaki, who does not wear a mask while speaking at the press briefings despite the 78-year-old president’s executive action, offered insight into how she views White House reporters, explaining that she treats them as patients in an insane asylum.
“[W]hen reporters are getting really loud, or they’re starting to ask crazy questions, I just slow down my pace, and I talk very quietly, and I treat them like I’m an orderly sometimes in an insane asylum,” she told the outlet, although she clarified that she does not technically consider them people in an insane asylum.
“Not that they’re people in an insane asylum,” Psaki said. “But, sometimes, that’s all you have to do to cool yourself down inside.”