On Thursday, 68 journalists in the White House press corps sent a contentious letter to White House Press Secretary Karine Jeane-Pierre complaining about new means the Joe Biden administration, in contrast with previous presidential administrations, has been employing to limit and control journalists’ access to the president.
The letter concludes with a call for a return to old norms, stating:
Thank you for your attention to these ahistorical problems. We ask you to see to it that the protocols are changed back to the access norms to which we are accustomed.
Some people’s initial reaction to the letter may be to assume it is run-of-the-mill complaining from press corps members. However, Steven Nelson of the New York Post, who is one of the signers of the letter, describes the letter in a Post article as “a rare airing of grievances.” Continuing, Nelson writes, “Some signers said they preferred to quietly communicate disagreements to the press office to resolve issues amicably and efficiently, but that attempting that route had been fruitless for more than a year.”
Nor is the letter a political attack in disguise from reporters or news organizations that are “right wing” or “anti-Democrat.” Rather, as Nelson relates in his Post article, “In all, reporters assigned to more than half of the seats in the White House briefing room signed the letter.”
Nelson notes in his article that the new limits on reporters’ access to President Joe Biden emerged in association with the imposing of coronavirus restrictions, but have persisted “since the White House ended indoor mask rules and returned to full-capacity briefings in early June 2021.” The letter itself makes a similar observation, commenting that “since such guidelines have been eased, we’ve never gotten an explanation as to why the areas that have traditionally been opened to all press remain restricted.”
The focus of the complaint in the letter is changes imposed by the Biden administration that shield the president from interaction with the press that previous presidents regularly endured. “We once again respectfully request the Biden administration – without exception – re-open all of the traditional venues for presidential remarks at the White House, including the East Room and the South Court Auditorium, for any reporter admitted to the White House campus,” begins the letter. The letter continues to explain that the problem is not just that new limits have been imposed on the number of reporters who may be present. There is also, the letter states, a total lack of transparency as to how the Biden administration determines which journalists may be at which events.
Perhaps due to the frustration of these reporters at the continuation of these restrictive policies without adequate explanation and in the face of previous complaints, the signers of the letter do not just make their complaint and seek a remedy. They also declare the Biden administration’s new approach toward reporters “cannot be defended” and is rooted in improper motivation. The letter states:
The continued inability of the White House to be candid and transparent about the selection process for reporters attending his remarks undermines President Biden’s credibility when he says he is a defender of the First Amendment.
The incongruity of these restrictions underscores the belief by many reporters that the administration seeks to limit access to the president by anyone outside of the pool, or anyone who might ask a question the administration doesn’t want to answer.
Let us be candid. Our job is not to be liked, nor is it to be concerned about whether or not you like what we ask. A reporter’s ability to question the most powerful man in our government shouldn’t be discretionary. The administration’s continued efforts to limit access to the president cannot be defended. Any notion that space is “limited” is not supported by the fact that every other president before Biden (including Trump) allowed full access to the very same spaces without making us fill out a request form prior to admittance.
Bad as the situation related in the letter is, things are even worse. Nelson explained in a Post article back in October that, in addition to the Biden administration’s restrictions on which reporters can be around the president at particular times such as during press conferences, President Biden has been significantly more protected from questioning by any reporters at all than have previous presidents.
Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.