White House reporters push back — just in time for Biden

The slumber ends

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Daily White House press briefings so far under President Joe Biden represent a welcomed return to efficiency and transparency. After being sabotaged for four years by Trump, where the irregularly scheduled events were used to spread lies as well as to denigrate and openly bully the news media, press briefings today resemble open exchanges between reporters and the White House spokeswoman, whose job it is to help inform the public about administration policy.

Yet just weeks in, some reporters are banding together and suggesting there's something nefarious afoot. According to a rather breathless account from The Daily Beast, "The new president’s communications staff have already on occasion probed reporters to see what questions they plan on asking new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when called upon during briefings."

Presented as deeply troubling, the report suggested the Biden team is trying to manipulate the press and pull one over on the American people. "The press can't really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want,” said one anonymous White House correspondent said. “That's not really a free press at all.” The journalist added that the White House's procedure "pissed off enough reporters" for the White House Correspondents Association to take note of it.

Fox News eagerly played up the story on Tuesday, claiming that inquiring about possible press questions, "makes them look unprepared."

But the story is a non-starter, and the kerfuffle seems more like Beltway journalists frantically trying to find a way to ding the Biden White House — a way to show they're not part of the "liberal media" — by inventing conflicts where none exists.

After four years of Trump's White House spokespersons categorically refusing to answer questions with substance, and instead leaning into lies, obfuscations, insults, and empty promises to provide journalists with answers at a later date, it's strange that Biden's press team is being criticized for trying to be prepared.

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News outlets collectively failed to defend themselves against Trump's purposeful onslaught of attacks and misinformation. Yet journalists become indignant over a minor process issue surrounding today’s White House briefings?

One Politico reporter, who writes about the White House, went on a Tuesday Twitter rant, insisting Biden's team was trying to silence reporters by occasionally asking what questions they were going to ask in advance. She called the policy "harassment" and "fake news" by another name. She stressed it meant, "If Psaki doesn’t like your question, she doesn’t call on you."

When it was pointed out that Psaki routinely calls on every reporter in the briefing room, and that to date not a single White House correspondent has claimed they've been silenced, the Politico writer insisted the blacklisting could happen in the future.

As the Daily Beast article itself pointed out, getting a sense of what questions reporters might ask is not unusual for any White House press team: "Communications staffers during the Bush and Obama years would ask reporters for the gist of questions in advance if they wanted to interview Cabinet secretaries." There's no indication the White House is trying to evade any questions or is trying to gain a public relations advantage by getting a heads-up about which questions might come up the day’s briefing.

Being upset about questions seems quaint compared to what White House correspondents endured  under Trump, just within the last year:

• He held a press briefing at his Bedminster, N.J., country club, and invited local members to attend, where they booed  journalists and cheered Trump's insults.

• During a Rose Garden "press conference" last year, Trump refused to take a single question from reporters. "That was not a press conference, as the WH described it," tweeted CNN’s Jim Acosta  CNN's Jim Acosta. "It was a campaign rally disguised as a press conference. It was a bait and switch." But CNN eagerly showed up at the next phony Trump press conference.

• Replying to a simple query from ABC News' White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, Trump lashed out, calling him "third-rate" and warned he'd "never make it."

• Ignoring social distancing health guidelines, the White House forced reporters last summer to sit shoulder-to-shoulder for a Trump briefing because the packed-in seating looked "better" on TV. Not one reporter got up and left in protest. "I notice you’re starting to get much closer together — looks much better, I must say," Trump said, as he urged the country to throw off restrictions designed to combat the spread of Covid-19.

• After the WHCA banned a conspiracy reporter from Trump's favorite niche cable outlet, One America News network, she was still allowed to show up at the briefings, making a mockery of the press events.

In four years, Trump launched more ugly, damaging attacks on the free press in America than the previous 44 U.S. Presidents, combined. Serious journalists should have walked away and refused to become extras in the Trump charades — refused to legitimize his scheduled rants, which were thinly disguised as press briefings. Yet the White House press rarely launched a serious response.

To be suddenly indignant about the new Democratic administration making inquiries about press briefing questions seems petty and hypocritical, given the media’s timidity under Trump.

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(photo Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

📺 GOOD STUFF:

It’s okay to take pleasure in watching misery unfold for right-wing media outlets, specifically those that seized upon Trump’s “stolen” election claims in search of short-term ratings gains.

The fringe outlet Newsmax TV pushed hard the claims that Dominion voting software was used as part of an elaborate conspiracy to rig the election. Until, that is, lawyers for Dominion made it plain NewsmaxTV would be the subject of a massive lawsuit if they didn’t knock it off. So Newsmax TV aired a rather extraordinary retraction back in December.

That’s the background for this amazing clip from yesterday afternoon:

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🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK:

Kings of Leon, “The Bandit”

Sometimes meat and potatoes are good, especially when not that many people are serving meat and potatoes. That’s kind of where Kings of Leon find themselves in the increasingly sparse world of straight forward guitar rock.

The band’s latest, its first in four years, arrives with a welcome, driving urgency. It’s a song that sounds better and better with each loud listen.

Two hundred miles to clear
Chasing a sound I hear
When the call brings them all to tears
And the hopes they all turn to fears