White House Accused of Preparing for Another ‘Basement Campaign’ by Restricting Press

Press have long struggled to gain access to Joe Biden, a president who largely steers clear of sit-down interviews and unexpected press time. But new rules from the administration will further hamper access by enacting stricter regulations for reporters to obtain White House “hard passes.” And if reporters don’t act in a manner that the White House considers “professional,” they could be shown the door. 

Compared to a temporary day pass, a hard pass is generally issued for one year and is subject to annual renewal. It allows journalists more regular access to White House grounds.

Reporters who want a White House hard pass must obtain “accreditation by a press gallery in either the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, or Supreme Court,” the White House said in May.

Congressional accreditation is a process that conservative media outlets have found tedious and fraught with roadblocks. The congressional galleries are governed by boards comprised of legacy media reporters. And the Supreme Court has a limited number of hard-pass holders (only 25 in the past term). 

Those new rules were a result of communications between the White House and the White House Correspondents’ Association, the Daily Caller reported in May 2023. And the Correspondents’ Association’s officers for 2023-2024 are comprised of legacy media outlet reporters: Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News, Eugene Daniels of Politico, Weijia Jiang of CBS, and Sara Cook of CBS.

The Correspondents’ Association decides seat rotations in the White House press briefing room, and since the room is small and some outlets are granted access only on a rotating basis, certain outlets don’t get regular access to the room. Even when they do, they are not guaranteed they will be called on by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

For reporters like The Daily Signal’s Fred Lucas, who has covered the White House for the past 14 years, the new rules mean he won’t be able to have a White House hard pass until he gets accredited by a congressional or the Supreme Court press gallery—effectively booting him from the briefing room for an undefinable period of time. 

“Under the new policy, there is zero transparency from the White House as to how many journalists are losing their hard passes,” Lucas said. “Moreover, the administration has never articulated a justification for purging media they deem non-compliant.”

The White House did not immediately clarify to The Daily Signal how many reporters are losing their hard passes. 

And it’s unclear how long that congressional accreditation process will take for reporters like Lucas. To some, it’s clear that conservative or right-leaning outlets face an uphill battle fighting for credentials.

senior GOP aide who spoke on condition of anonymity emphasized to The Daily Signal: “It’s pretty obvious that conservative media outlets are held to different credentialing standards on the Hill.”

“Here’s why,” the aide explained. “‘Boards’ made up of leftist and mainstream media outlets control who gets credentialed or not. These boards vote on who gets credentialed or not. They don’t always follow the standards that they are supposed to follow. No one seems to know the actual rules for credentialing.”

The senior GOP aide added: “It’s pretty awful and won’t change until there is more transparency throughout the credentialing process and conservative outlets are guaranteed a seat at the credentialing table.”

Amber Athey, Washington editor for The Spectator and author of “The Snowflakes’ Revolt: How Woke Millennials Hijacked American Media,” doesn’t think it’s necessarily wrong to ask media outlets to be credentialed through Congress before applying for a White House hard pass.

“But based on the White House’s general attitude toward press access, I think this is just an excuse to freeze out unfriendly outlets who might not be able to meet the new standards,” Athey, who has spent several years in the White House briefing room, told The Daily Signal. 

“You’d think an outlet like The Daily Signal, which has had a White House reporter for years, would have the ability to receive an exemption or be grandfathered in,” she said. “The White House similarly restricted access during the pandemic by placing the financial burden of daily COVID-19 testing on media outlets, which was prohibitively expensive for smaller and independent outlets.”

Pushback From Media

Playboy magazine writer Brian Karem sued former President Donald Trump’s administration after he was suspended for 30 days in 2019 for a heated verbal exchange with former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka. Karem alleged that the White House was trying to silence his coverage, and a federal judge reversed the White House’s decision the same year. 

Karem told The Washington Post in May 2023 of the new White House rules: “If they’re trying to get rid of a reporter because they don’t like the question or because they think yelling out a question is rude, I’d just refer them to the [CNN White House reporter Jim] Acosta and Karem cases. They will lose.” 

And his lawyer, Ted Boutrous Jr., who also litigated Acosta’s lawsuit against the Trump administration, called the new rules “unduly vague.”

“We fought against the arbitrary suspensions of press passes by the prior administration, which were similarly based on vague standards of conduct that can all too easily be misused to attack and punish aggressive journalism or unpopular viewpoints and shield the White House from rigorous journalistic scrutiny,” Boutrous told the Post.

Simon Ateba is the chief White House correspondent for Today News Africa. He’s a reporter who regularly spars with Jean-Pierre and has drawn criticism from some of his colleagues for demanding to know why she is much more likely to call on liberal or legacy media outlets. 

Ateba believes the White House rules specifically target him: “How can a guy come from Africa and you have to change the rules because of him?” he asked in a May Twitter post. 

And as columnist Paul Bedard noted in the Washington Examiner, Ateba is “also likely to lose his pass because he spars with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.” 

“The Obama White House used similar tactics to weed out reporters,” Bedard noted. “The Obama-Biden White House was sharply criticized by media experts for disregarding the First Amendment with its press policies.”

In June 2022, then-Axios reporter Jonathan Swan called out Biden for “repeatedly” refusing to do a sit-down interview with him, even though his July 2020, in-depth interview with Trump made huge headlines and even became the subject of internet memes. (Swan now works for The New York Times and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) 

And Geoff Ingersoll, editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller, suggested Wednesday that the new rules are “part and parcel of a campaign to stifle the media and flick a few conservatives off the [roll of reporters]” as the administration prepares for Biden’s next presidential run. 

“They’re gearing up for another basement campaign,” Ingersoll told The Daily Signal. 

Biden’s ability to dodge the press likely stems from the remote days of the coronavirus pandemic, according Ben Williamson, a former senior communications adviser in the Trump administration who served as deputy assistant to the president.

Williamson slammed Biden for hiding from the American public, telling The Daily Signal on Wednesday: “By the Biden campaign’s own admission, COVID-19 created a once-in-a-generation dynamic that allowed Joe Biden to get credit for doing what he does best: staying home and with a light schedule. He will not have that luxury in 2024. Voters want to see the president working, facing the press, and earning their vote—and Biden has never shown the ability to do that.”

“Without COVID to hide behind,” he added, “good luck running a basement campaign against a guy like Donald Trump doing two, three, four rallies a day. Biden’s presidency will be out-worked into oblivion.”

When the Biden administration first took office, then-press secretary Jen Psaki pledged that the administration would “bring transparency and truth back to the government” and pledged “to share the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.” But Psaki, the very woman who made that promise, now anchors an MSNBC show where she critiques Trump, suggests that wokeness in the military is a right-wing conspiracy, and bashes the pro-parent group Moms for Liberty. 

The Daily Signal also spoke with a former Trump White House assistant press secretary who pointed out that both former White House press secretaries Psaki and Jean-Pierre “have clearly prioritized the more compliant legacy media, which occupy the front-row seats of the White House briefing room, at the expense of more adversarial outlets, which tend to have seats further back in the room.”

“It’s disingenuous for the Biden White House to take credit for holding daily press briefings while taking steps to avoid as many tough questions as possible,” the former assistant press secretary added. 

Lawmakers Speak Out

Meanwhile, lawmakers have publicly expressed outrage that The Daily Signal’s Lucas would lose his White House hard pass after so many years of White House coverage. 

“Normally, the Biden White House asks Big Tech to censor conservatives for them, but it seems they’ve taken it into their own hands,” said Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. 

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul mocked the White House, saying, “The Biden White House can’t find out who brought in cocaine, but they sure can spot and throw out a conservative member of the press.”

And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan emphasized, “Shouldn’t every journalist be outraged about this? Pretty telling if they aren’t.”

Reproduced with permission Original here.

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