The Biden White House press office has come under fire for reaching out to Capitol reporters to quiz them about the questions they’ll ask press secretary Jen Psaki during scheduled briefings, according to a report on Tuesday.
The practice rattled members of the White House press corps who expressed concerns that they could be seen as coordinating with political staffers and alerted the White House Correspondents’ Association, the Daily Beast reported.
Reporters in a Zoom call last week pressed other correspondents to push back at the White House’s efforts to uncover the questions in advance or just ignore them, the report said.
“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 reporter told the website. “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 said.
The report noted that the Biden press office has tried to draw contrasts with the Trump administration’s more contentious relationship with the press corps, and Psaki makes an effort to call on every reporter at the daily briefings.
And she has said that the White House and reporters covering it have a “common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”
The White House did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment, but a spokesperson did not deny the practice to the Daily Beast, saying it’s reaching out to reporters to gauge their interests so they don’t appear to be sidestepping questions at the briefings.
“Our goal is to make the daily briefing as useful and informative as possible for both reporters and the public,” a spokesman told the Daily Beast.
“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. That two-way conversation is an important part of keeping the American people updated about how government is serving them,” the person said.
Editor at Spectator USA, Amber Athey, who used to cover the White House for The Daily Caller, said she has never heard of reporters being questioned.
“The Trump administration certainly never asked me for questions in advance and I suspect there would have been universal outrage from reporters if they had done so,” Athey told Fox News.
Conservative strategist Chris Barron said the practice would be “normal” in a “banana republic.”
“It’s absolutely unheard of in this country,” Barron told Fox News.
But the Daily Beast reported that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary for former President Donald Trump, asked news outlets for a heads up on their questions before high-profile press conferences.
Staffers in the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton also quizzed reporters before interviews with Cabinet secretaries.
Eric Schultz, a former deputy press secretary in the Obama White House, said finding out what reporters want to ask helps streamline the briefings and ensure questions get answered.
“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,” Schultz 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,” he said.
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