In the White House, frustration over who can ask questions

“You forgot half the room,” a reporter yelled at the deputy chief press secretary. Karine Jean-PierreKarine Jean-PierreWill the Supreme Court accept Biden’s vaccine ‘alternative solution’ as constitutional? Companies left in limbo by mandate COVID-19 Video showing violence removed from Representative Gosar’s account after setback MORE from the back of the James S. Brady Briefing room at the White House this week.

The outburst, captured on live video of the briefing and included in a written transcript, comes amid audible frustrations among some reporters in the briefing room over who is called to ask questions in daily sessions.

Competition among the press for the opportunity to ask questions at briefings is nothing new, but the complaints have been strong enough to slip into public view in recent weeks.

“You should answer questions from this side of the room,” a journalist yelled at Jean-Pierre at the end of Monday’s briefing.

“Yeah, there are like five more rows here,” interjected another.

“Tomorrow, guys. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, ”she replied. “I’ll get the … back tomorrow.”

At the end of Tuesday’s briefing, a journalist yelled at Jean-Pierre again: “You forgot the back.”

“I called the … I called the back,” he replied. “We had [U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina RaimondoGina RaimondoBiden marks Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery Biden hopes to turn infrastructure bill into jobs quickly Biden’s next challenge: Selling the infrastructure bill MORE] take pictures of … take questions from behind, guys. ”Raimondo had answered questions from a reporter sitting behind the front rows earlier during the briefing.

Most of the complaints appear to come from journalists further back in the meeting room, many of whom represent smaller news outlets.

On Friday, the White House press secretary Jen psakiJen PsakiOn The Money – Budget Analysts Caught in Partisan Shooting Nighttime Health Care – Presented by Rare Access Action Project – Biden Presents FDA Choice Equilibrium / Sustainability – Presented by Altria – Cotton Farm Accused of Firing Black Workers PLUSReturning to the meeting room for the first time since testing positive for COVID-19 late last month, he made it a point to call several reporters who weren’t sitting in the front rows of the meeting room.

“I just want to skip, because I know we are not reaching enough people in the back, so I listened,” Psaki said before calling reporters from TIME and The Daily Mail.

Reporters are assigned seats in the small newsroom, which was a swimming pool before becoming a workplace for the media during the Nixon administration.

The front row seats are filled with the biggest players in journalism: the four major networks NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX, the Associated Press and CNN.

The second row includes other major outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, CBS News Radio, NPR, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

Seat assignments are reviewed and determined by a four-member committee of the White House Correspondents Association board that weighs factors such as the reach of a media outlet and its average daily, weekly and monthly audience when placing each seat.

Further back in the room are smaller outlets, as well as several foreign media outlets and regional news organizations like the Boston Globe.

Some news organizations do not have formal seats in the room.

(The Hill has a fourth-row seat in the living room.)

Smaller media outlets frequently complain that White House press secretaries representing the presidents of both parties pay too much attention to the front row and don’t ask enough questions from other rows in the room.

Smaller outlets also often complain that front-row reporters, specifically those representing networks, often fiddle with cameras, hog time, and ask too many follow-up questions.

Few want to speak publicly about the drama, and those who spoke to The Hill generally asked that their names not be mentioned in order to speak frankly.

“Those of us who cannot ask questions every day are frustrated that they are pressing seven questions with questionable informational value,” said a White House reporter who attends briefings regularly. “They’ve been asking maybe five or seven different questions on each major news story so they get the clip of their correspondent asking about all the major news of the day.”

Michael Shear, a reporter for The New York Times who has been covering the White House for more than a decade, said that it is typical for press officials to use personal discretion when selecting who to call in the meeting room and for how long. .

“Often times, people who are not called get rightly annoyed,” Shear said. “In an ideal world, everyone could ask all their questions … sometimes [press officials] They do a better job of spreading opportunities more widely in the room and sometimes they don’t. ”

He also acknowledged the recent irritation among some of his colleagues in more distant ranks.

“You could feel the frustration in the back of the room,” he said of this week’s briefings. “We who represent the largest networks and news organizations, I think we have to be more respectful of our other colleagues.”

Since Biden’s inauguration, Psaki has called reporters across the room to ask questions, and a source familiar with daily planning said the White House makes a sincere effort to reach as many reporters as possible. Informational meetings generally end with reporters yelling additional questions, something that is far from unique under Biden.

Psaki often promises to “circle back” to a reporter with an answer to a question that is not available to him.

The networks, cable services, and other large news organizations at the front of the room also travel with the president on a regular basis, unlike some of the smaller news outlets. Its investments in its coverage are large, as is its reach across the country.

Each press secretary has his own style, point out the journalists who have been working in the room for years. Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany once explained her reasoning for ignoring a reporter in November 2020, saying, “I am not calling the activists.”

Regardless of who is conducting the briefings under what management, it is the responsibility of all reporters in the room to ensure that only a select few are “mastering” the flow of the briefing, Shear said.

“This is all really self-control,” he added. “The White House Correspondents Association is not the type of organization that is going to demand that reporters only get one question … it relies on everyone’s goodwill to do the right thing.”

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