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White House press corps demands end to Biden event restrictions

A group of 66 journalists sent a rare protest letter to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Thursday asking that President Biden’s staff abandon a mysterious pre-screening process for reporters and reopen large events to all journalists.

The letter from many current White House reporters — including prominent TV correspondents, famed veteran reporters and leaders of the White House Correspondents’ Association — follows a full year of the secretive selection process for venues such as the East Room that in past administrations were “open press.”

Biden aides have refused to tell the White House Correspondents’ Association the selection criteria and individual reporters have received an array of conflicting explanations, resulting in a widespread belief that the practice is meant to shape the variety of questions presented to the president.

“The current method of allowing a limited number of reporters into these events is not only restrictive and antithetical to the concept of a free press, but it has been done without any transparent process into how reporters are selected to cover these events,” the letter says.

“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,” it continues.

“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 asked.”

The White House press office ended COVID-19 capacity restrictions for the briefing room in early June 2021, but has continued with “spacing constraints.”
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“Let us be candid,” the letter goes on. “Our job is not to be liked, nor is it to be concerned about whether or not you like what we ask. Reporters’ 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.”

The letter concludes, “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.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claims “I actually don’t know” how the selection process works, but denied it amounted to “blacklisting.”
AP/Susan Walsh

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, CBS’s Ed O’Keefe and Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich and Kevin Corke signed the letter, as did legendary former ABC anchor and White House reporter Sam Donaldson, TheGrio’s April Ryan, Newsmax’s James Rosen, Gray Television’s Jon Decker and Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett.

The letter was drafted by veteran journalist Brian Karem, who writes for Salon. The second signature was from CBS Radio’s Steven Portnoy, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, who privately lobbied against the practice for months. A reporter for The Post signed third and helped circulate the document.

Two other correspondents’ association board members — Todd GIllman of The Dallas Morning News and Francesca Chambers of USA Today — signed, as did past presidents of the association Tom DeFrank and George Condon, both of National Journal, and all five candidates in this year’s association election.

In all, reporters assigned to more than half of the seats in the White House briefing room signed the letter.

The White House press office ended COVID-19 capacity restrictions for the briefing room in early June 2021, but has continued to claim “spacing constraints” to justify prescreening of reporters allowed into Biden’s own much larger indoor events, where he often takes questions.

CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins
CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is one of the many journalist who signed the letter.
AP/Alex Brandon

Jean-Pierre said at a June briefing “I actually don’t know” how the selection process works, but denied it amounted to “blacklisting.” Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki in October declined to share the criteria, saying at a briefing, “I don’t have any more information on that.”

Over the past year, reporters were given a wide range of conflicting explanations of how the selection for events works, leading reporters to conclude that it was done in a way intended to shape the variety of questions posed to Biden, who often takes questions at such events, and to screen out others.

Jean-Pierre did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.

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