President Joe Biden’s administration apparently does not want to be caught off guard with tough questions by the media during its press briefings.
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What’s going on?
According to the Daily Beast, Biden’s communications department has requested that reporters submit their questions to the White House staff in advance of press secretary Jen Psaki’s daily briefings, presumably to avoid being scrutinized by reporters with difficult questions.
The issue was reportedly discussed during a White House Correspondents Association meeting last Friday.
Reporters are allegedly upset over the White House’s request, fearing it plays into the perception of coordination between the West Wing and media.
“That’s not really a free press at all,” one White House reporter said, according to the Daily Beast.
“While it’s a relief to see briefings return, particularly with a commitment to factual information, the press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want,” the reporter added.
Indeed, WHCA leaders instructed to reporters to either “push back” against the requests or not comply altogether.
What’s the background?
In contrast to the Trump administration, which jettisoned daily White House press briefings almost completely, Biden and his communications team promised to restore the daily briefings and have thus far delivered on that promise.
What did the White House say?
Biden’s administration claimed that asking reporters for their questions ahead of time is not an attempt to dodge questions, but rather to understand the pulse of reporting on any given day.
“Our goal is to make the daily briefing as useful and informative as possible for both reporters and the public,” a spokesperson told the Daily Beast. “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. That two-way conversation is an important part of keeping the American people updated about how government is serving them.”
Meanwhile, Eric Schultz, who served as a deputy press secretary in the Obama administration, claimed the Biden communication team’s request is fairly normal, allowing staff adequate time to prepare for the daily briefing.
“This is textbook communications work. The briefing becomes meaningless if the press secretary has to repeatedly punt questions, instead of coming equipped to discuss what journalists are reporting on,” Schultz told the Daily Beast. “In a non-COVID environment, this would happen in casual conversations throughout the day in lower and upper press. One of the few upsides to reporters hovering over your desk all day, is that you get a very quick sense of what they’re working on.”