At the first press briefing of the newly inaugurated administration, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki promised the media that she would bring “truth and transparency back to the briefing room.”
In practice, the Biden-Harris administration has shaped, shut down, or censored the news the American people read every day.
Here are six tactics they use:
To limit reporters’ coverage, the White House regularly edits the very words journalists include in their stories through a practice known as “background with quote approval.” Instead of answering reporters’ questions during the daily press briefing, Psaki will send an administration official to circle back with the information the reporter needs, but the reporter has a choice: If you don’t give the administration the right to control the exact wording of the quotation, you can’t quote us. Instead, reporters have to say their information came from an unnamed “administration official,” which sounds less credible and authoritative.
The agreement also gives the administration veto power over any quotation that it doesn’t like. Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the New York Times, called the tactic “a pernicious, insidious, awful practice” to “control” media coverage.
Slapping “Unprecedented” Gag Orders on Media Outlets
Presidents have tried to seize reporters’ phone (and later, email) records for decades on the grounds of national security. But it was only during the Biden administration that the media reported that the administration would impose a gag order on the media outlets targeted, banning them from telling the public — or even their own legal team — about the maneuver. New York Times’ lawyer David McGraw slammed the Biden Justice Department’s “unprecedented” gag order on the newspaper to “shield [the administration] from public view. How many other gag orders are in effect, we can only guess.
Not holding press conferences
The most direct way to shape the news is to stay on message by denying journalists the right to ask questions. This successful strategy began during the 2020 presidential campaign, when Joe Biden “campaigned” almost exclusively from his basement (“due to COVID-19”) and regularly called a lid at unusually early hours. The media placidly accepted Biden’s inaccessibility as the price of getting rid of President Donald Trump, and Biden has since made this the norm as president.
The president waited 64 days before holding his first press conference — the longest wait in 100 years — and he hasn’t held another one in the 77 days since. Biden has said that, if he answers questions at unscheduled times, “I’m really going to be in trouble,” and he’s joked about running over reporters with a truck. The presidential cone of silence is so extreme that even CNN’s Brian Stelter complained to Psaki, asking, “Why haven’t you held more than one press conference, one big press conference? … Is that part of an attempt to lower the temperature, be less visible, be boring?”
Screening reporters’ questions in advance
Jen Psaki has gone viral with the way she shuts down uncomfortable questions, a tactic her supporters call a “Psaki bomb.” But she can prepare those witty retorts, because she has already screened the questions she will ask — and which ones she will ignore.
Multiple members of the White House press corps revealed that the Biden administration asked them to submit their questions in advance, sharing their concerns during the January 29 video call of the White House Correspondents’ Association. While the Obama and Trump administrations did this on occasion, the Biden White House made it a regular practice. A White House spokesperson said the administration only asked to see the questions in advance in order “to make the daily briefing as useful and informative as possible” and “to understand how the White House can be most helpful in getting them the information they need.” But reporters say this gives the White House the power to dodge uncomfortable questions.
“The press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want,” a White House correspondent told The Daily Beast. “That’s not really a free press at all.”
Even after reading the questions in advance, Psaki answers an enormous number of questions by promising to “circle back” with the information she already knew reporters needed.
Denying access to vital information
After Biden rescinded President Trump’s border enforcement provisions, illegal immigration across the southern border exploded into a crisis. The administration wanted to avoid the photos of “kids in cages” which dogged the previous administration — so Biden simply banned reporters from photographing the facilities, or the border.
“For the past four presidential administrations, I have accompanied U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and photographed their encounters with migrants as they enforced immigration policy. No longer,” wrote John Moore, a photojournalist who works with Getty Images, in The Washington Post. “We have gone from the Trump-era ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward immigrants to a Biden-era ‘zero access’ policy for journalists covering immigration. This development is unprecedented in modern history.”
It’s not merely the media. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) posted video footage of an administration official hustling him out of a migrant detention facility in Donna, Texas, in March. If you can’t visit the facility, you can’t report on the administration’s interlacing web of failures.
Stonewalling Freedom of Information Act requests
Investigative journalists regularly file Freedom of Information Act (or “FOIA”) requests for documents about a given topic. The government is legally required to answer promptly and fulfill these inquiries, if possible. But this administration had hardly taken office when it started stonewalling FOIA requests — a skill Biden learned and practiced during the Obama administration, when FOIA requests sometimes stretched on for years at a time.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has already had to take the Biden administration to court for refusing to honor at least two of its FOIA requests, about taxpayer-funded experimentation with aborted babies’ bodies and the decision to delete a press release about capturing two terrorists at the U.S. border, respectively. “Unfortunately, the Biden standard when it comes to the challenges it faces seems to be ‘ignore it until it goes away.’ We’ve received no cooperation,” the ACLJ noted. “We will do our part to bring this information to the American people. And then the American people can hold our leaders accountable.”
These six tactics — which are just a few which we happen to know about — give the administration powerful tools to deny, shape, and even write the media’s coverage of the president and vice president. As of this writing, the Biden-Harris administration has held power for a mere 141 days.
It’s going to be a long, and heavily redacted, four years.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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