White House Communications Team Encounters Turbulence

Did @PressSec’s Staff Seek Journalists’ Questions in Advance?

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

I suppose it’s all relative. Compared to the horrific daily White House press briefings of the last four years — when there were any — the transparent and truthful approach of President Biden’s new Press Secretary Jen Psaki and her team is a breath of fresh air. Didn’t I read that reporters for the faux news orgs OAN, Sinclair, and NewsMax were considered persona non grata by this new communications team? If so, good for @PressSec (and good for all Americas)! As VF’s The Hive reports:

Other members of the pro-Trump media are, however, still pursuing access to Joe Biden‘s White House. Eric Bolling, a former Fox News host who has used his platform on the Sinclair Broadcast Group to spread misinformation about the coronavirus and who enjoyed, like many members of the conservative media, a close relationship with the Trump White House, has recently submitted his paperwork to join the WHCA, Politico reports

Nonetheless, in typical fashion, the news media’s propensity for both sides-ism has reared its ugly head in a new report by The Daily Beast, which alleges that the Biden communications team had the audacity to ask for reporters’ questions in advance.

According to three sources with knowledge of the matter, as well as written communications reviewed by The Daily Beast, the new president’s communications staff have already on occasion probed reporters to see what questions they plan on asking new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when called upon during briefings.

First of all, most bona fide news organizations will refuse to provide specific questions in advance of a presser or a one-on-one interview. In my experience, however, it is not unreasonable to request of a reporter the general areas he or she might cover. It’s a deft ask, but one that also helps the newsmaker be better prepared to more fully address reporters’ questions – a win-win.

Moreover, there are certainly occasions when a legit news org will indeed acquiesce and provide questions in advance. They include interviews with highly sought-after individuals, e.g., a head-of-state or an A-list celebrity. And then there are the industry trade publications, which often send subject matter experts their questions in advance.

Nevertheless, it’s a no-no for a PR person to ask for or expect reporters to provide their questions in advance. (See my previous post.) We are paid for our ability to peg the likely questions a reporter may put forth in an interview or presser, without being provided them beforehand. This predictive skill is based on years of working with journalists and an understanding of the current news environment.

In fact, more than a few of us toiling in the PR trenches have felt a sense of pride when a client emerges from an interview that produced no surprise questions. Still, the insinuation that Ms. Psaki’s communications staff is asking journalists for their questions in advance is a bad look (if not much ado about nothing). Is it worse than how Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee, or Kayleigh McEnany berated and deceived the White House press corps day-in and day-out for four years? Not a chance.