Press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday refused to say how White House staffers select reporters allowed into recent presidential events.
The secretive practice has outraged journalists as officials give inconsistent explanations on how they screen who is allowed within earshot of President Biden.
In recent months, 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” — 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.
The White House Correspondents’ Association opposes the practice of pre-screening for East Room events — which under past presidents generally were open to all reporters — and nobody has gotten a firm answer from press handlers on how selections are made.
Psaki cut off The Post when pressed for an explanation of how the selections are made — and forbade the reporter from asking a second question about a different topic.
“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,” The Post told Psaki at a press briefing.
“So I’m hoping you can demystify for us how White House staff are selecting which journalists get into these events — is it first come, first serve or something? And also, how long will this pre-screening remain in place?”
Psaki blamed COVID-19 and said access limits may ease in the near future.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, as you know. People are wearing masks in this room as a reflection of that,” she said. “We have certain requirements here as well among staff. And i think we don’t have the size of numbers that we would all like to have in the East Room and we hope that we make changes to that soon.”
The Post pressed, “But how are the decisions made?”
Psaki deflected, “Is that not important that we’re going to expand access and make sure that more people can get into the East Wing [sic]?”
When told that it was welcome news “but how are the decisions made about who gets to go in?” she shut down the line of questioning and went to a different reporter.
“There’s a limited number we have based on how many people are attending as guests. I don’t have any more information on that,” Psaki said.
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.
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.
Senior White House journalists don’t know how the process works.
It’s widely believed that White House staff make subjective decisions on reporters allowed into Biden events to shape the variety of questions that get asked — a practice that could open legal issues for the White House due to a Trump-era court ruling against arbitrary decision-making processes for granting press badges.
It’s one of several press-access complaints about the Biden administration. The president also has granted far fewer interviews than his six immediate predecessors, The Post reported this week.