Several White House correspondents said they are “disgusted” that President Joe Biden uses a list of approved journalists to take questions at rare press conferences, saying the president needs to hold more major pressers that allow a wider set of outlets to participate.
The president used a list of 10 pre-selected White House correspondents from left-leaning, establishment outlets to take questions at Wednesday’s press conference, the first briefing he has held since January. Journalists in the briefing room, who represented nearly 100 different outlets, expressed frustration in statements to the Daily Caller, accusing the White House of doing a “disservice” to the press and the American public by allowing a selected pool of journalists to ask questions.
While Biden’s use of lists is not necessarily abnormal, a review by Director of the White House Transition Project, Martha Kumar, indicates that Biden has shied away from holding major press conferences — much more so than his predecessors. Biden has held an average of .8 press conferences per month — many of them after his foreign trips, where journalists are given the opportunity to pose just a few questions, the New York Post reported. Donald Trump held an average of 2.6 per month, Barack Obama had 1.7, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each had over two per month, and George H.W. Bush averaged three, the outlet reported.
Multiple reporters, including Playboy White House correspondent Brian Karem and Washington Examiner correspondent Christian Datoc, criticized the president for his lack of press conferences, while other correspondents argued that the administration’s refusal to take tough questions and follow-up questions has shown a lack of “press freedom” to a greater degree than previous administrations.
“Just because you’re in the room, doesn’t really mean you’re in the conversation,” Datoc told the Daily Caller. “It’s understandable the president leans on the same tv, wires, and legacy outlets in his press conferences, as they have the largest reach. The only way for more outlets and reporters to get opportunities to question the president, is if he holds more press conferences, something we all hope the White House will commit to now that the midterms are over.”
Disclosure: Datoc formerly worked for the Daily Caller’s White House correspondent.
“I think the president did a disservice by not taking questions from more reporters in the room. The reporting staff at the White House Press Corps did itself a disservice by falling into the trap of the same reporters asking as many questions as they want because that makes us look amatuer-ish and it makes the president look better,” Karem said. “They always favor the pool, the pool gets the best seats, the pool gets the best opportunity of asking questions, the pool gets their questions answered more than anyone.”
Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary under Trump, told the Daily Caller that Biden is “not in control” and does not appear to be in charge. Biden is instead abiding by his staffers’ wishes, whereas former President Donald Trump ultimately decided whom to call on and took questions from journalists representing a variety of outlets, he said.
Biden “gets the list, but he makes it very clear that the staff made the decision as to who will be called on and who won’t, and he says he has to abide by it,” Spicer said, adding that Biden “makes it sound like the staff is running the place.”
The Biden press conferences “are much more scripted and they clearly don’t want to take a question from anybody who’s going to challenge them,” he continued, adding that White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is “not the most qualified” because she frequently appears to be out of the loop on key issues.
The Daily Caller spoke to four White House correspondents who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of professional reprisal.
One White House correspondent told the Daily Caller that the “list” is a way of “controlling the conversation” by filtering out questions that the White House does not want Biden to answer. The individual also criticized fellow White House journalists for not defending other reporters’ questions, adding that the hostility in the briefing room began during the Trump administration, when reporters turned into “activists” rather than journalists. (RELATED: WH Press Corps Erupts In Protest After AP Again Lets Psaki Off The Hook Early)
“What it really is, is an opportunity for the president to talk about what he wants to talk about. There’s no real back and forth, there are no careful followups, because reporters aren’t given the opportunity to do that, and I think what’s worse, is that those with the access have decided to hang onto that at the expense of other journalists,” said the reporter.
“Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the Biden administration when it comes to press freedom are empty,” the reporter continued. “The Biden administration, the president, the secretary of state, even the Justice Department, who have espoused all of these lasting principles about upholding press freedom around the world, but they forget that they are supposed to do it inside the United States as well.”
A second White House correspondent said, “Biden’s press conference was a complete charade made to further blind the American public to their lies. Every single reporter that got to ask a question was pre-selected, and came from a major, liberal, corporate outlet. Fox News, which is the main right-leaning outlet that usually gets called on, didn’t even make the list. Few substantive questions were asked and the whole press briefing was an incestuous liberal orgy, all made to stroke Biden’s ego. I’m disgusted at the current state of things and hope reporters from smaller outlets will rise up to ensure that the president is subject to more hard-hitting questions that the American public wants to hear.”
A third member of the White House press corps told the Caller, “President Biden missed an opportunity to demonstrate his ability to answer tough questions, especially as critics openly question his mental acuity. By calling on just nine reporters approved by his press office, he did not field inquiries from a diverse set of journalists. He skipped over the largest U.S. cable news channel as well as five of the six largest U.S. newspapers. American presidents should show respect for the free press by engaging with a broad set of outlets. Biden’s decision not to do so continues press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s recent timidity in avoiding calling on journalists who may ask tough questions.”
Reporters frequently plead with Jean-Pierre to pick on those in the back rows for a question, though she rarely does.
Today News Africa reporter Simon Ateba, who has repeatedly called out the administration for calling on a select few correspondents, said the briefings are “clearly rigged,” and claimed his outlet is being “sabotaged” by the lack of opportunity to communicate with the administration.
“It is sad and it breaks my heart daily that press briefings or press conferences at the White House are clearly rigged,” Ateba told the Daily Caller. “On the surface, they appear to be transparent, but in reality it’s all about the illusion of transparency. A few reporters are picked or chosen to ask questions while others are not, and the White House won’t say why. Many of those questions are sent in advance to the press secretary who then reads answers from their binder.”
Ateba further detailed that although the president is slated to host 50 African leaders at the U.S.-Africa summit next month, his outlet is not allowed to attend. African reporters even struggle to ask questions when the White House National Security Council holds its frequent briefings to discuss current events in Africa.
“What saddens me the most is the fact that this is happening as China and Russia are expanding their influence across Africa, and are empowering pro-China and pro-Russia publications with millions of dollars to undermine the United States,” he said. “But here I am, trying to bolster ties between the United States and Africa and being destroyed by the people who are supposed to help me. It’s almost like a curse. Our publication, Today News Africa, which focuses on U.S.-Africa ties is being sabotaged by the administration and Big Tech companies.”
The Pavlovic Today White House correspondent Ksenija Pavlovic Mcateer told the Caller that she is “stonewalled” by Jean-Pierre potentially because the White House can’t control her narrative.
“As a first generation immigrant and media entrepreneur who is making history for all immigrants by leading an independent media company, The Pavlovic Today, I am stonewalled by the Biden Press Secretary, perhaps because they don’t control my narrative and know they never will. I asked to be placed on the list to ask President Biden a question at the press conference but she just keeps stonewalling me, and that has to change,” Pavlovic said.
“Independent American quality journalism matters and I am asking Karine Jean-Pierre to show me equal respect she is giving to CNN, NBC and other media she favors over The Pavlovic Today,” she added.
A fourth unnamed White House correspondent stated, “Biden has been a disappointment compared to his predecessors, including even Donald Trump, in the sense of actually having press conferences and there’s no formal interactions and we’d all like more.”
The Biden administration is responsible for creating the handpicked list of correspondents to call on at presidential press conferences, and the press secretary is the one that chooses on who to call on in the White House press briefings. The White House refused to respond to the Daily Caller when asked what determines which journalists get on the list. (RELATED: ‘Not Sharing’: White House Refuses To Say Why Biden Has A ‘List’ Of Reporters)
The White House Correspondents Association (WHCA), however, is the organization that chooses the layout of the briefing room, and which outlets get to sit in the front rows. Seventy reporters signed a letter in protest of the seating chart, but it has yet to be reformed.
The Daily Caller has reached out to the Correspondents Association and will update the story accordingly.