White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Tuesday that President Joe Biden will hold his first solo press conference on March 25, over two months after taking office. The administration scheduled the conference after weeks of journalists pointing out that Biden was the first president in 100 years to not hold formal court with the media within his first 33 days on the job. But sadly, unless the White House opens up the press conference to a wider array of journalists, this is just theater.
The Biden administration has been responsible for an unprecedented crackdown on media access to the White House, which it has largely blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. The White House complex is currently limited to 80 journalists at any time, all of whom must test negative for COVID-19 before gaining access. Due to the daily cadre of pool reporters who are required to be on campus, plus the small group who have assigned seats in the briefing room, there are few testing slots left for other reporters, even if they are White House Correspondents Association members or holders of a White House hard pass. The remaining tests are raffled out to reporters via a lottery system and are only available at the White House testing center until 1 p.m.
These measures have already severely limited the number of journalists from independent or smaller media outlets who can access the White House on any given day. The Biden administration made this problem even worse in late February when they started requiring reporters who are not a part of the daily pool to pay for their own COVID tests, which cost $170. Bootstrapped outlets are effectively priced out of having reporters at the White House on a regular basis.
All of this brings us to the March 25 press conference. Provided the administration operates under the same rules as a normal day, the same select handful of journalists who get to attend Psaki’s daily press briefings will be the only ones allowed to question Biden. According to Politico, there are just 14 seats filled by reporters at the daily press briefing. CNN, ABC, NBC and other giant (and usually left-leaning) outlets take up the vast majority of them.
Does it really sound like Biden is going to be held accountable to the American people if he is only taking questions from barely a dozen mainstream media reporters who probably voted for him anyway? If the Biden administration is being honest, they will find an alternative venue to host the press conference — like the Rose Garden or the East Room — that can hold more reporters while still abiding by social distancing measures. (Luckily Dr Fauci has hinted that three feet apart, rather than six, may be acceptable now.) They should also open up the event to more than just the select few reporters who have had no shortage of access to the administration during this pandemic. Otherwise, this is all a farce.