Less than two months since President Joe Biden’s first full briefing room, his staff are excluding some White House journalists from the president’s press conferences. Under the guise of pandemic-imposed “spacing constraints,” reporter access is now pre-selected and limited.
Press conferences, which are now held in the spacious 3,000-square-foot White House East Room, are RSVP only. After RSVPing electronically, reporters are subject to a selection process by the White House staff, who only pick a small number of journalists to attend with the rotating daily press pool, the New York Post reported on Wednesday.
“This is all baloney. There is no space issue,” reporter Brian Karem, who has covered the White House for more than three decades, told the Post. “This is unprecedented territory. It has never been as restrictive.”
Karem said he has RSVPed but has been denied every time. During the Trump administration, East Room conferences were open press. The room itself can fit hundreds of people, but the Biden administration’s selective process is “disingenuous,” Karem said.
“This president has never made himself available to the open press in an open atmosphere, and the East Room is where those usually occur. This administration is being disingenuous in telling us that there’s limited availability and therefore we can’t get in,” he said.
Since Biden’s inauguration, reporters have speculated that his administration carefully chooses which reporters are allowed access to the president. White House staff has asked reporters for questions ahead of press conferences, and Biden has relied on pre-approved press lists in the past.
A White House handler is calling on reporters by name and by outlet one-by-one to ask Biden a question, unlike Trump who called on reporters as the spirt moved him.
— Philip Melanchthon Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) January 25, 2021
Despite the East Room being able to fit hundreds of people, if “spacing constraints” really were an issue, other larger areas of the White House could be utilized for press events. The Rose Garden or South Lawn, for example, where Donald Trump answered many questions, accommodated a large press pool during the direst days of the pandemic.
The White House has not detailed its selection procedures, nor has it specified how the pre-screening process ensures representative in-person attendance.