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The White House press corps is a microcosm of the national media. It’s totally liberal, full of Joe Biden voters. So it was strange when former press secretary Jen Psaki told the Los Angeles Times that she sometimes thinks, “I’m an orderly in a madhouse.”
The briefing room is often a tank of hungry sharks for a Republican press secretary, and a classroom full of teachers’ pets for a Democratic press secretary. The news cycle has to be negative enough for reporters to be hostile to Biden’s press aides.
On March 20, Simon Ateba, a black journalist from an obscure website called Today News Africa, started screaming at the top of the briefing that the current press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, was not calling him to ask his questions. Other journalists joined the fray, insisting that Ateba air his grievances off-camera.
Today News Africa and White House Press Secretary Simon Ateba Karine Jean-Pierre
There must be decorum at press conferences. The White House is no place for egotistical shouting from journalists, no matter the outlet. But some people have thought that by doing this they could gain fame and fortune.
THE REPORTER BLAMES KARINE JEAN-PIERRE FOR REFUSING TO ANSWER HER QUESTIONS: ‘THEY HAVE TO LOOK’
Before him, CNN’s Jim Acosta routinely shouted down former President Donald Trump, and was celebrated as heroic and trashed by Stephen Colbert. Acosta consistently suggested that Trump would succeed in brutalizing or killing journalists, and wrote a self-congratulatory memoir titled “The Enemy of the People: America’s Perilous Time for Truth-Telling.”
In 2017, April Ryan sparred with Trump press secretary Sean Spicer, and later joined CNN as a political analyst. That year, he was also named “Journalist of the Year” by the National Association of Black Journalists. This will never happen to Ateva. He also wrote a self-promotional memoir called “On Fire: Reporting From the Front Lines of the Trump White House.”
CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta speaks to reporters after a judge temporarily revoked White House press credentials on November 16, 2018. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
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Brian Karem, who wrote about Trump for Playboy, even got a political analyst gig at CNN after he called out Sarah Huckabee Sanders. So it was blatant hypocrisy for Karem to scold Atebar about how “it’s not just that” and “mind your manners”.
Then, reporter Zeke Miller of The Associated Press felt the need to apologize to the American public for Ateba’s outbursts. Miller said, “We’re here to ask questions on their behalf, to hold their government accountable because they can’t all be here. And this isn’t about us.”
Jean-Pierre was grateful for the apology. But at least half of America has no confidence that AP reporters will ask tough questions or hold the president accountable. Last year, the AP’s Josh Boak got a rare interview with Biden in which he began, “I’m really interested in how you’re thinking and how you’re making choices at what seems like a very unique time in American history.”
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens during a daily news briefing at the White House on March 22, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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I was the White House reporter for World magazine during the first two years of George W. Bush’s presidency, a Christian news weekly. I wasn’t always called out, but I never raised my voice because that wouldn’t reflect well on the employer. I resisted the temptation to ask press secretary Ari Fleischer naughty questions “Do you think Helen Thomas has become a crackpot?”
This White House has been very limited in giving access to President Biden, preferring interviews with former Obama aide Kal Penn and actress Drew Barrymore. Karine Jean-Pierre is not in a position to say that the American people deserve a better press corps when their goal is to avoid the president as much as possible.
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Tim Graham is executive editor of NewsBusters.org and co-author of “Unmasked: Big Media’s War Against Trump” with Brent Bozell.