Free the White House Press Corps
Biden White House is hiding behind COVID
If you watch the White House Press briefings, you should recognize Steven Nelson of the New York Post, veteran journalist Brian Karem, and CBS News Radio’s Steven Portnoy, who also is President of the White House Correspondents Association.
Thursday the trio pushed back on unexplained social distancing policies with a group letter. The message, as I translate it: President Joe Biden and his team shouldn’t hide behind COVID.
I am one of 70 journalists who signed the letter. Here’s a phrase (in italics ) I never thought I’d write — the list includes 68 current White House correspondents, Sam Donaldson and me.
Basically the complaint is that by limiting those events in the East Room and South Court Auditorium to the press pool — and a few hand-picked reporters — the White House excludes the majority of reporters who show up every day to cover 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Also, the press office has failed to explain why it continues with the policy.
It’s sort of odd when you watch the East Room exchanges, because you see a small group of reporters packed together shouting questions — but from a distance from POTUS. It’s like a half-COVID.
This is a great time to plug my podcast, “Trailing Trump: Notes from the Back of the Briefing Room,” that explores the logistics and politics of covering a White House. What’s a pool? you may ask. That’s Episode II. Episode III dropped Tuesday.
Here are the letter and signatures.
Dear Karine Jean-Pierre;
We once again respectfully request the Biden administration - without exception – re-open all of the traditional venues for presidential remarks at the White House, including the East Room and the South Court Auditorium, for any reporter admitted to the White House campus.
The current method of allowing a limited number of reporters into these events is not only restrictive and antithetical to the concept of a free press, but it has been done without any transparent process into how reporters are selected to cover these events. We are all left wondering who is making these decisions and what are the criteria on which they are based?
We appreciate that COVID-19 social distancing guidance played a role at first, but in the year and a half that Joe Biden has been president, and since such guidelines have been eased, we’ve never gotten an explanation as to why the areas that have traditionally been opened to all press remain restricted.
For any reporter not in the "pool" that covers the president, open press remarks represent the only time most of the reporters who cover the president might be positioned to ask him a question – or interact with him at all.
The continued inability of the White House to be candid and transparent about the selection process for reporters attending his remarks undermines President Biden’s credibility when he says he is a defender of the First Amendment.
The incongruity of these restrictions underscores the belief by many reporters that the administration seeks to limit access to the president by anyone outside of the pool, or anyone who might ask a question the administration doesn’t want to answer.
Let us be candid. Our job is not to be liked, nor is it to be concerned about whether or not you like what we ask. A reporter’s ability to question the most powerful man in our government shouldn't be discretionary. The administration's continued efforts to limit access to the president cannot be defended. Any notion that space is “limited” is not supported by the fact that every other president before Biden (including Trump) allowed full access to the very same spaces without making us fill out a request form prior to admittance.
Thank you for your attention to these ahistorical problems. We ask you to see to it that the protocols are changed back to the access norms of which we are accustomed. Yours,
Laura Figueroa Hernandez
I have a PDF of the letter below.
Many readers believe that the press corps is too easy on Biden. I’d put it this way, the press corps is more polite with Team Biden, but reporters do push back.
Debra J. Saunders, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership covered the White House for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach her at email@example.com.