For weeks, the White House press corps has been boiling – and not from the Washington, DC, heat.

They’re frustrated. Some feel the White House misled the press before President Joe Biden’s stumbling performance at last month’s CNN presidential debate. Others have been exasperated by the White House’s response since then to questions about the president’s health, often leading to follow-ups and clarifications from the administration on otherwise straightforward questions. And nearly all of the White House correspondents who spoke to CNN for this report felt the president should have held a press conference with reporters in the immediate aftermath of the debate.

Now, two weeks after Biden’s eye-opening debate performance, journalists from the nation’s biggest news outlets will finally get their chance to question the president directly when Biden takes questions Thursday evening during the NATO summit.

Expect fireworks.

Since the debate, the journalists tasked with covering the White House have been imploring the president’s communications team – who said the debate was just a “bad night” – to prove it, allowing him to take questions directly from the press.

“This is a period of time here where the public is trying to understand what happened,” NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell said on July 2. “And the president could help to answer that by engaging with us in an unscripted way right now.”

In the weeks since the debate, a media frenzy has erupted around Biden, with the White House and Biden campaign coming under intense scrutiny for any sign that aides are attempting to shield the president or potentially cover up any of his missteps that might show a decline.

The discontent has been on full display in the White House briefing room, where reporters have openly sparred with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, particularly over the president’s medical history. Amid pushback from the press, the White House has been forced to revisit answers to some questions.

CBS News senior White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe laid it all out during a dust-up with Jean-Pierre on Monday.

“Well, we’re a little miffed around here about how information has been shared with the press corps,” he said. “You answer it incorrectly and then have to come back and clean it up a few days later.”

“No, wait a minute,” Jean-Pierre replied. “Calm — Ed, please. A little respect here, please.”

Jean-Pierre said she and the White House communications staff have been doing “our best in this briefing to provide the information that we have.”

“I will be the first one to admit: Sometimes I get it wrong. At least I admit that,” she added.

But the exchange was symbolic of the growing distrust between the White House communications team and the press corps, which has bristled over what they perceive to be a lack of transparency and access to Biden, who has conducted fewer press conferences than his recent predecessors.

The following day, Jean-Pierre was asked about a neurologist’s visit to the White House earlier this year, which she denied had been related to the president. But later that evening, Jean-Pierre issued a statement correcting her comments.

“This is the second time in less than a week where the briefing had prompted a need for later clarification on questions about the president’s health,” Associated Press White House reporter Seung Min Kim said in the briefing room Tuesday.

It turned out the neurologists’ visits were not all related to the president, after a breathless news cycle that, at times, implied the president was being treated for Parkinson’s (the White House says he is not). But while the tense moments in the briefing room may seem to focus on small details and semantics, for the press it’s about credibility.

“I think this is a credibility crisis writ large for the White House, and certainly as a spokesperson for the White House, this is a credibility crisis for her,” one White House reporter told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation.

“If they were answering truthfully, with a sense of fidelity to the question in a well-meaning way, you wouldn’t necessarily see (those blow-ups in the briefing room),” the reporter added.

The reporter said the press corps has not suddenly decided “to get tough” on the White House in wake of the debate, noting that reporters have been frustrated with how Jean-Pierre has answered from the podium for more than a year and a half.

“We saw the debate. We asked questions. The answers that we got in response to those questions were unsatisfactory,” the reporter said. “And so we’re reporters, looking, probing when given unsatisfactory answers.”

In a statement to CNN, White House spokesman Andrew Bates defended Jean-Pierre, saying she “takes hard questions every day, providing thorough answers” and represents President Biden “with grace and integrity.”

“And she does that with respect, knowing it’s the obligation of journalists to constantly ask for more information; and that if any White House press corps, in any administration, were ever satisfied they would not be doing their jobs,” Bates said. “Whatever disagreements she may have with reporters, she never gives anonymous quotes criticizing any of them. Instead, she keeps her office door open.”

Even before the debate, Biden has held fewer press conferences than his most recent predecessors.

Biden has held 36 press conferences thus far in his presidency, fewer than former presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush at the same point in their presidencies. While the White House has countered that Biden has held more off-the-cuff interactions with the press than his predecessors while traveling to events and meetings, reporters say those are nowhere near the same as an open format press conference.

Bates said Biden has “proudly fought for the rights of journalists in the world and spoken forcefully about the ‘critical’ role of the press in American democracy – rather than slander them as ‘enemies of the people.’ In line with those values, his team reinstated daily press briefings and works hard to be informative and factual, including by releasing more documentation on policy than at any time in American history.”

But a former White House staffer under President Bill Clinton told CNN that Biden’s team had deployed an astute strategy to not put the president in front of the media as often because they have to “play to his strengths, which is not a news conference.”

“The media’s game is, ‘let’s do a press conference, because that’s the only way you can demonstrate to us.’ Well, guess what? They don’t need to demonstrate to the media. They need to demonstrate to the country,” the former staffer said. “And if I were advising them, I would say, play to his strengths. And if that means fixed events, that means, you know, less formal interviews, whatever it is, that’s what I tell them to do.”

But as questions continue to swirl around Biden’s mental fitness, a mounting challenge for the White House and Biden’s campaign is the growing belief that the White House and campaign have not been transparent about his condition.

“We are in the midst of a full-blown feeding frenzy,” former CNN White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno said.

Sesno and former White House correspondents and officials told CNN that questions surrounding Biden’s age and performance, along with how the White House is handling the issue, are legitimate and warrant scrutiny. But they cautioned that the emphasis of the reporting needs to be on how Biden has fundamentally changed over time.

“If a subtext takes hold in the press corps, it’s very, very difficult for a president to break out of that, and Biden is dealing with that today — that he’s too old,” said Kenneth Walsh, the author of “The Architects of Toxic Politics in America” and a former White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. “That’s the story that we’re all focused on now, because we see evidence of it, and so it’s a rather easy story to do, and it’s a dramatic story, and it’s valuable to keep people focused on it because we think it’s important to understanding this president.”

Read the full article here

Leave A Reply

© 2024 Brilliance Financials. All Rights Reserved.