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Reporter confronts Psaki over ‘mysterious pre-screening process’ for who can cover presidential events

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The White House hasn’t just been pre-screening questions posed to President Joe Biden — it’s also reportedly been pre-screening which reporters are allowed to even speak with and question him.

The administration appears to have no valid explanation for this pre-screening, as demonstrated by the excuses tossed out by White House press secretary Jen Psaki when pressed over the matter Friday.

“We, as a press corps, are fairly unanimous in our opposition to the mysterious pre-screening process that’s been going on for presidential events in the East Room, and so I’m hoping that you can demystify for us how White House staff are selecting which journalists get into these events,” the New York Post’s Steven Nelson asked during Friday’s briefing.

“Is it first come, first served, or something else? Also, how long will this pre-screening remain in place?” he added.

Nelson noted in a report published at the Post that for several months now “the White House press office has cherry-picked reporters allowed into Biden events in the nearly 3,000-square foot East Room and even on the lawn by citing dubious ‘spacing constraints.'”

This is true.

The office has done so “despite no such constraints in the much-smaller briefing room, where 49 seated reporters and many standing ones have gathered every day since COVID-19 limits ended in June,” Nelson added.

A similar excuse was trotted out by Psaki on Friday.

“Well, we have — we are still in the middle of a pandemic, as you know. People are wearing masks in this room as a reflection of that. We have certain requirements here, as well, among staff. And I think we don’t have this size of numbers that we would all like to have in the East Room, and we hope that we make changes to that soon,” she said.

She herself was not masked.

(Source: ABC News)

Nelson tried following up, but the press secretary abruptly cut him off.

“Is that not important that we’re going to expand access and make sure more people can get into the East Wing?” she asked.

But Nelson has been raising concerns about the pre-screening since at least August. How long exactly will this expansion take?

Finally granted an opportunity to follow up, the New York Post reporter changed the focus of his line of questioning by asking “how are the decisions made about who gets to go in?”

“There’s a limited number that we have based on how many — how many people are attending as guests,” Psaki replied.

“Is it first come, first served then?” Nelson quickly pressed.

“I don’t have any more information on that,” the press secretary replied before hurriedly dismissing him and moving on to another reporter.

In his report for the Post, Nelson further noted that the White House Correspondents’ Association also opposes this pre-screening. He then drew attention to the White House’s inconsistent messaging on this topic.

“White House staff have given inconsistent explanations to reporters about the process behind choosing who get to attend the forums, where Biden sometimes takes questions. Some journalists have been told that it’s first come, first served, but that’s been anecdotally debunked when reporters who RSVP just before the cutoff time get in but those who RSVP quickly do not,” he wrote.

“Other explanations offered by the press office to reporters include that there’s a mysterious rotation among major news outlets, or that decisions are made based on the size of a publication’s audience — a claim belied by The Post’s access to just a single event in four months. Random choice also is an explanation that’s been floated,” he added.

The belief among those journalists who aren’t ideological sycophants to this administration is that the White House is making “subjective decisions” based on politics alone.

FYI, the Post is considered a conservative outlet.

Complaints about the White House’s screening habits have been percolating since practically the day Biden took office in January.

Back in February, The Daily Beast — a demonstrably left-wing outlet — called the White House out for “prob[ing] reporters to see what questions they plan on asking new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when called upon during briefings.”

“The requests prompted concerns among the White House press corps, whose members, like many reporters, are sensitive to the perception that they are coordinating with political communications staffers,” the outlet reported.

“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,” it continued.

According to one of The Daily Beast’s sources, the White House’s behavior “pissed off” reporters, though clearly not enough to stop most of them from behaving like sycophants — ergo why, months later, Nelson appears to be the only one still raising the alarm.

Vivek Saxena

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