On her first day in office, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pledged to bring “truth and transparency back to the briefing room,” saying she has a “deep respect for the role of a free and independent press.”
But less than two weeks into President Joe Biden’s administration, reporters are raising concerns about White House press office staffers trying to get them to give advance notice on what questions they play to ask at briefings, The Daily Beast reported.
The issue with asking journalists for their questions ahead of time is that it could give the impression that the media is working in conjunction with the Biden administration, allowing officials time to craft good answers.
For years, the media has been accused of being too left-leaning, and not being critical enough of Democratic administrations. A recent Fox News report claimed that reporters’ questions were too easy during Psaki’s first press briefing, comparing them to briefings during former President Donald Trump’s administration.
According to The Daily Beast, reporters brought up the issue of Psaki’s team’s trying to coax their questions out of them ahead of time at a White House Correspondent’s Association Zoom call last Friday.
Multiple sources told The Daily Beast that WHCA leaders advised reporters to push back or not respond to such requests.
“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,” one unnamed White House correspondent told The Daily Beast.
“That’s not really a free press at all.”
Insider has contacted the White House for comment on the report.
But the White House press team didn’t deny the allegation when reached for comment by The Daily Beast, but explained that this was routine work needed to make press briefings as efficient as possible.
“Our goal is 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,” a White House spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
“That two-way conversation is an important part of keeping the American people updated about how government is serving them.”
Two people told The Daily Beast that there was precedence for this kind of behavior in the Trump administration, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asking certain outlets for questions ahead of major press conferences or events.
And during the Bush and Obama administrations, if reporters wanted to interview Cabinet secretaries, they were asked for the gist of their questions, The Daily Beast said.
Eric Schultz, a former deputy press secretary in the Obama White House, defended the practice to The Daily Beast.
“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,” he said.
“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.”