The White House press corps is a microcosm of the national media. It is overwhelmingly liberal, stuffed with Joe Biden voters. So, it was downright weird when former press secretary Jen Psaki told The Los Angeles Times she sometimes thought, “I am an orderly in an insane asylum.”
The briefing room is usually a tank of hungry sharks for a Republican’s press secretary, and a classroom full of teacher’s pets for a Democrat’s press secretary. The news cycle has to be pretty negative for reporters to sound hostile to President Joe Biden’s press aides.
On March 20, black reporter Simon Ateba from an obscure website called Today News Africa began screaming at the very top of the briefing that current press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was not calling on him so he could ask his questions. Other reporters joined the fight, insisting Ateba press his complaints off camera.
There should be decorum at press briefings. The White House is not a place for egotistical shouting by reporters, no matter the outlet. But some people have thought they could secure fame and fortune by doing it. Ateba scored friendly interviews with Fox and Newsmax.
Before him, CNN’s Jim Acosta routinely yelled at then-President Donald Trump and was celebrated as heroic and was gushed over by Stephen Colbert. Acosta constantly suggested Trump would get journalists brutalized or killed, and wrote a self-congratulatory memoir titled “The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America.”
In 2017, April Ryan squabbled with Trump press secretary Sean Spicer, and then she joined CNN as a political analyst. That year, she also was named “Journalist of the Year” by the National Association of Black Journalists.
This will never happen to Ateba.
Ryan also wrote a self-promoting memoir titled “Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House.”
Brian Karem, who wrote about Trump for Playboy, also secured a political analyst gig at CNN after yelling at Sarah Huckabee Sanders. So, it was remarkable hypocrisy for Karem to scold Ateba about how this “isn’t just about you” and to “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 claimed, “We’re here to ask questions on their behalf, to hold their government accountable because they can’t all be here. And this, this isn’t about us.”
Jean-Pierre expressed her appreciation for the apology. But at least half of America has zero confidence that AP reporters will ask tough questions for them, or hold the president accountable. Last year, AP’s Josh Boak secured a rare interview with Biden and began with: “I’m really interested in how you’re thinking and how you’re making choices during what seems like a really unique time in American history.”
I was a White House reporter for World magazine, a Christian newsweekly, in the first two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. I didn’t always get called on, but I never raised my voice, since that wouldn’t have reflected well on my employer. I resisted the temptation to ask press secretary Ari Fleischer naughty questions like “Do you think Helen Thomas has become a crackpot?”
This White House has been extremely limited in granting access to Biden, who prefers interviews with former Obama aide Kal Penn and actress Drew Barrymore. Jean-Pierre is really in no place to lecture that the American people deserve a better press corps when their goal is for the president to avoid it as much as possible.
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