New arbitrary protocols for WH briefing room use Covid as excuse to diminish tough reporters

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Earlier this week, the White House Correspondents’ Association announced they were reducing the seating in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room from 49 seats for the press corps to 14, ostensibly due to the Omicron variant surge and leftist panic over it.

White House Correspondents’ Association President and CBS News White House correspondent Steven Portnoy stated in an email on Sunday: “We remain in a COVID-19 wave that appears far from cresting. In fact, experts believe the current Omicron surge won’t dissipate in much of the country for another month or so. We have every reason to believe that case rates will continue to increase in the greater Washington area – and in our press corps – after holiday gatherings.”

“Given the virulence of the spread, medical experts have once again advised that it would be prudent to substantially reduce the number of people working in the cramped, poorly ventilated workspace that we share,” he continued.

“Acting on that advice, your board met in emergency session this evening and unanimously approved a motion to temporarily return the briefing room to 14 seats, as drawn on the attached diagrams,” Portnoy added.

“Beyond the seat restrictions noted above, we continue urging members to only come into the White House as a function of the assignments given to them expressly by their managers. We now expect that every person who comes into the White House will take it upon themselves to secure a covid test beforehand. We continue urging the use of N95 or KN95 masks to comply with our indoor masking requirement,” he concluded.

According to an opinion piece at Mediaite by Jackson Richman, there is significant disagreement and pushback against what are seen as “out of touch” and “arbitrary” protocols for the briefing room.

Richman pointed out what many experts are saying about Omicron, that it is milder.

“For one, as of Dec. 21, at least 97 percent of White House reporters are vaccinated and boosted, according to a survey of WHCA members (And I was told that the number has since increased as there were WHCA members who got boosted but weren’t part of the survey). While the risk of contracting Omicron appears to be higher for the vaccinated than previous variants, vaccination still provides great protection against hospitalization,” he added. “The new variant is milder: fewer people are being hospitalized by it, and for those who do experience symptoms, those symptoms are milder.”

He went on to note that none of the vaccines out there are foolproof and referred to “draconian measures” that are “unsustainable.”

“For the vaccinated who experience a breakthrough case, the symptoms are something akin to the flu. Those in the White House press corps who experience this can and should simply not go to the briefing room and self-isolate. No need to close off chairs in the room in some attempt at Covid-safety theater. What’s more, most people are tired of remote work. One poll showed 87 percent of Americans ready to head back to the office in person,” Richman asserted.

He also wrote about reporters asking White House press secretary Jen Psaki to move briefings online as Omicron burned through the American population over the next month or so. The White House Correspondents’ Association proposed holding briefings virtually on Zoom or using an alternative platform to avoid being physically present in the White House’s 49-seat briefing room.

Psaki said in a statement that the White House has followed the guidance of health experts, adding “we don’t think it sends the right message to the country or the world to close the briefing room or pause in-person briefings.”

Richman voiced a very sane viewpoint on the whole situation.

“While people should be smart amid the coronavirus – which is looking like it will be endemic for the foreseeable future and should be viewed through a symptoms-based lens as opposed to alarmism about cases – thanks to the vaccine and boosters, they can live their lives. White House reporters are no exception. Instead of waiting until Jan. 21 to revisit the decision, as mentioned in Portnoy’s message, the new restrictions should be scrapped and the White House should have full press briefings with a virtual option available for those who do not want to attend, or cannot attend,” he said.

“Students are going back to school in person. Blue-collar laborers are already working in person. Why should White House reporters be any different when it comes to showing up to the briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to ask questions that should be in the interest of the American public?” he concluded.

It should also be noted that the fewer press members who are allowed in the briefing room, the fewer there are to question President Biden and his administration’s actions.

Under the new capacity limit, only reporters from Bloomberg, Reuters, and the Associated Press will reportedly be able to regularly attend White House press briefings. Other journalists, including those who are relatively tough on Biden, will have to wait their turn for rotating seats in the press room.

The move was mercilessly mocked on social media:


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