Daily Beast media reporter Maxwell Tani is reporting that anonymous White House reporters are tattling on Jen Psaki’s press team, that they have already probed reporters to find out what questions they plan on asking Psaki during the daily briefings. Some of these reporters don’t like an idea forming that they’re coordinating their questions and coverage with the Democratic staff.
The Biden White House did not deny this report, but the White House says “it has tried to foster a better relationship with the press corps than the previous administration, and has tried to reach out to reporters directly in order to avoid appearing to dodge questions during briefings.”
You can see Psaki wanting to cut down on the “circle back” answers, but this kind of snooping can also affect which reporters are called on, and who might be skipped, or delayed until the end, when cable news might move on from live coverage.
It’s always a little amusing to see reporters using each other as anonymous sources, so they can keep the White House from learning who’s tattling on them. Journalists love to preach the need for transparency, and routinely avoid it with their sourcing.
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.
“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 White House correspondent said. “That’s not really a free press at all.”
“It pissed off enough reporters for people to flag it for the [WHCA] for them to deal with it,” another knowledgeable source said.
Tani disclosed that Daily Beast staffers were present for this off-the-record call, and he insisted he got none of the scoop from them. He used former Obama press staffer Eric Schultz to spin that “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.”
Tani also insisted that other White House staffs have tried to learn questions in advance, some of them in the informal morning “gaggle.” But there’s a notable difference between an informal off-camera meeting with assembled reporters to learn what’s the buzz, and pestering individual outlets about the questions they’re planning for the formal on-camera briefing.