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- Media reports indicate that the White House has asked reporters for their questions ahead of time. However, that’s common practice for public relations officials — and there’s no evidence that briefings are being staged.
When President Joe Biden took over the White House, his administration resumed a tradition that had gone by the wayside during the Trump years: regular press briefings.
Since Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, press secretary Jen Psaki has fielded questions from White House reporters in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room nearly every weekday. Journalists have peppered her with questions about the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and Biden’s spate of executive orders.
But one PolitiFact reader asked if the briefings are less transparent than they appear.
"Someone told me that the press briefings are staged. That reporters have to submit questions in advance," the reader wrote. "I don’t believe it."
Is there some truth to the rumor? PolitiFact took a closer look.
Media reports indicate that the White House has asked reporters for their questions ahead of time. That’s common practice for public relations officials to prepare for briefings, but some reporters say it could discourage the administration from answering questions it doesn’t like. There’s no evidence that briefings are being staged.
On Feb. 1, the Daily Beast reported that the Biden team was asking White House reporters for their questions in advance of press briefings. The story was based on "three sources with knowledge of the matter, as well as written communications reviewed by The Daily Beast."
"The requests prompted concerns among the White House press corps, whose members, like many reporters, are sensitive to the perception that they are coordinating with political communications staffers," the news outlet wrote.
The Daily Beast’s reporting was included in articles published by outlets like the New York Post and Fox News. It also inspired a series of stories from conservative sites like Breitbart and the Western Journal, which wrote that the report "implies the administration has attempted to rig briefings."
Some anonymous correspondents included in the Daily Beast’s story expressed concern about the White House’s request for questions. Other reporters published their reactions to the article on Twitter.
"To everyone asking why this matters: If Psaki doesn’t like your question, she doesn’t call on you," said Politico reporter Tara Palmeri in a Feb. 2 post.
However, other journalists and public relations officials said asking for questions is a common practice. Eric Schultz, a former deputy press secretary in the Obama White House, told the Daily Beast it’s "textbook communications work."
"The briefing becomes meaningless if the press secretary has to repeatedly punt questions, instead of coming equipped to discuss what journalists are reporting on," he said.
We reached out to the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the president, for more context. Executive Director Steven Thomma said press briefings aren’t staged.
"Journalists decide what to ask and when to ask it," he said. "White House staff as far back at least to Gerald Ford have routinely worked to know what is on reporters' minds so they can prepare for daily briefings. They have used informal group conversations as well as individual conversations to do this. But this is primarily to ensure they have the answers reporters — and through them the public — need."
"We've seen no evidence that the White House is refusing to call on any reporter based on any expectation they have of the topic of a coming question."
Footage from a Feb. 16 press briefing shows that Psaki answered several questions each from more than a dozen reporters. We reached out to the White House for a comment, but we haven’t heard back.
Have a question you want PolitiFact to answer? Send it to [email protected].
Breitbart, "The Circle Woman: Report Shows Biden Staff Prescreening Psaki Press Briefing Questions," Feb. 1, 2021
The Conversation, "Trump White House goes 300+ days without a press briefing – why that’s unprecedented," Feb. 24, 2020
C-SPAN, White House Daily Briefing, Feb. 16, 2021
The Daily Beast, "White House Reporters: Biden Team Wanted Our Questions in Advance," Feb. 1, 2021
Email interview with Steven Thomma, executive director of the White House Correspondents' Association, Feb. 12, 2021
Fox News, "Biden WH under fire for reportedly screening briefing questions: 'Universal outrage' if Trump did this," Feb. 2, 2021
The New York Post, "White House press office screened reporter questions to Jen Psaki," Feb. 2, 2021
Tweet from Ali Rogin, Feb. 2, 2021
Tweet from Nu Wexler, Feb. 1, 2021
Tweet from Tara Palmeri, Feb. 2, 2021
The Western Journal, "Report: Biden Communications Team Busted for Asking Reporters for Questions Before Press Conferences," Feb. 2, 2021
The White House, Press Briefings