Reviews | Fox News dominated White House press briefings

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On day two of the Biden administration, Fox News host Sean Hannity taunted White House press secretary Jen Psaki by promoting the network’s White House correspondent Peter Doocy. “He’ll probably be one of the few people in the room that you hate answering questions to every day,” Hannity said.

Good old Hannity – wrong again. If Psaki, who last month handed over the briefing room desk to Karine Jean-Pierre, really “hated” calling on Doocy and her colleague Jacqui Heinrich, she had a funny way of expressing it. Over the past 16 months, the internet has repeatedly lit up with transcribed recaps of his one-on-ones with Fox News correspondents on topics including covid-19, Anthony S. Fauci, Afghanistan , immigration, jobs, voting restrictions, the Olympics or whatever else was on the Fox News agenda.

The White House data itself upends Hannity’s prediction: From the start of the year to May 9, Biden aides answered 347 questions from Fox staff. Here’s how that number compares to reps from other major networks:

Some kind of explosion, huh? Remember: President Biden leads the party that ruled out Fox News from sponsoring Democratic debates in the 2020 primary season; he served as Vice President of the Obama administration, who had a notoriously unpleasant relationship with Fox News. The current incarnation of Fox News is equally toxic and biased against Democrats.

So what’s going on here?

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“It’s important for readers and viewers to have factual information,” a White House official notes via email, “and sometimes it takes a longer back-and-forth with follow-ups to make sure that our point of view is adequately, accurately and fairly represented by journalists.”

As this blog has previously reported, Biden advisers have long believed in reaching, rather than fleeing, Fox News’ audience, which includes significant slices of Democrats and independents. To that end, the aides even provided exclusives to reporters from time to time. “The most surprising source titles are the ones that had the most impact,” a 2020 Biden campaign adviser told the New York Times. “When people saw a Fox News headline endorsing Joe Biden, it made them stop scrolling and think.”

The same mentality plays out in the White House briefing room, with the result that prime-time viewers of Fox News get periodic glimpses of Biden’s unfiltered stance. Last September, for example, Hannity criticized the Biden administration for saying the Taliban had been “pragmatic and professional” to facilitate the departure of Americans from Afghanistan.

The host therefore broadcast a clip of Doocy and Psaki discussing the subject:

Doocy: “Can you explain a bit more why the White House in a statement refers to the Taliban as professionals and professionals?”

PSAKI: “Well, I would note that in this statement, what we were announcing was the fact that a Qatari Airlines flight had successfully landed in Qatar.”

Doocy: “You say the Taliban are serious and professional. Their Home Secretary has an FBI wanted poster. He’s got a $10 million bounty on his head. It’s – what is it?

PSAKI: “We are here to celebrate the return of American citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan. We had to work with some members of the Taliban to pressure them and work professionally to get them out.

Hannity never gives administration a fair shake; he always annotates the repartee of the briefing room with a smirk. “Watch your screen. Watch this,” the host said after playing Psaki’s “professional” defense, “because this is new footage showing Afghan women being beaten up during a protest in Kabul. And it’s the group the Biden administration calls them professionals and tells them there’s not enough inclusivity here.

The inclusion of Psaki’s rebuttal, however, exposes the “Hannity” crowd to the White House’s position as articulated by its most seasoned briefing. And that’s something. During the first weeks of Biden’s presidency, Psaki faced a question from Doocy about the administration’s approach to handling unaccompanied minors at the southern border. Critics, many on Fox News, had baselessly claimed that Biden was echoing Trump’s policies. Viewers of “Hannity” got this insight into the issue:

PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now we’re seeing pictures of containers. Is there a better description? Are they containers instead of children in cages? What is the White House’s description of this facility?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, let me – let me give a broader description of what’s going on here. We have a number of unaccompanied minors, children who arrive in the country without their families. What we don’t do [which] the last administration was to separate these children, to tear them from the arms of their parents at the border. That’s not what we do.

“Hypocrisy,” Hannity concluded. But at least one dissenting voice had crept into the proceedings. For context, this edition of “Hannity” featured commentary from conservative pundits Dan Bongino, Mike Huckabee, Tammy Bruce, Leo Terrell, and Dana Loesch; conservative Lara Trump; and conservative politicians Kristi L. Noem, Matt Gaetz and Herschel Walker.

Hannity’s briefing room recordings also continued under Jean-Pierre’s tenure. Last Thursday night, for example, he featured exchanges between Doocy and Jean-Pierre on inflation and gun violence. Doocy peppered Jean-Pierre with quick follow-up questions, a practice that may well explain Fox’s generous share of the tally above.

Does the White House see value in breaking through groupthink? “I wouldn’t say we’re crossing our fingers that Sean Hannity accurately or adequately reflects the administration’s views on his show,” a White House official replied. “We’re not going to like every question asked, and reporters will push us on the answers, but we strive to convey accuracy and transparency from the podium, while respecting the role of the press, including Fox News, asking questions whether we agree with them or not.

Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist who studies briefings, found that the top five TV channels gobble up a disproportionate amount of time. Representatives of small outlets, who sit in the rows behind networks and wire services, complained at the beginning of March that the large means of the networks left them little time.

White House Correspondents Association President Steven Portnoy told the Erik Wemple Blog that the group advocated for press secretaries to move around the room and include “the widest range of journalists from the most wide variety of media. A White House official said: “Jen and now Karine have always made an effort to answer as many questions as possible and try to move around to ask as many reporters in the briefing room as possible. And the vast majority of briefings are at least 45 minutes long, allowing for a variety of questions.

The Gist: Fox News reinforced the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. He promotes racist theories that liberal elites are orchestrating the “great replacement” of white Americans. Yet he figures prominently in a White House briefing room run by a Democratic administration.

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