WASHINGTON — The White House press office on Monday surprisingly snubbed Atlanta’s top newspaper by barring two of its journalists from covering President Biden’s celebration of the Atlanta Braves‘ World Series championship.
The stunning slight comes about a week after Biden’s press agents excluded four Orthodox Jewish reporters from a presidential event on hate crimes.
The Journal-Constitution’s Washington correspondent and a photographer for the paper unsuccessfully sought to attend the Monday event featuring the Braves in the nearly 3,000 square foot East Room, Politico’s West Wing Playbook reported.
But the newspaper was told that only one person for the outlet would be allowed to cover the event, The Post confirmed. A sports writer for the paper was the only Journal-Constitution employee admitted, despite pleas for reconsideration due to the importance of the event to the Atlanta community.
The White House Correspondents’ Association has tried for more than a year to convince Biden’s team to restore historical press access norms and allow all reporters at the White House to attend large events — without success.
It’s unclear why the White House would not seek to accommodate the hometown journalists from a state that Biden carried by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020.
Large media outlets are routinely allowed to have multiple people at such events and journalists admitted to the East Room on Monday said there seemed to be enough space available to fit more press.
In fact, at least one reporter who did not RSVP was able to enter the event, meaning that the White House did not actually check to ensure that journalists were on the pre-approved list.
White House Correspondents’ Association President Tamara Keith, a reporter for NPR, said the association “continues to advocate that events in the East Room be open press,” meaning open to all journalists on the White House campus.
A White House official told The Post, “A sports correspondent for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution attended and covered today’s event for the paper. It is longstanding protocol to allow one reporter per news outlet to cover events in the East Room so that the White House can accommodate as many news organizations as possible.”
“The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was reminded about this last week, and opted to send their sports correspondent to cover the event for the paper,” said the official.
The prescreening of press for presidential events began during the COVID-19 pandemic but has lasted long after the relatively small White House briefing room returned to full capacity in June 2021 — outraging the White House press corps.
In June, 73 journalists representing nearly two-thirds of briefing room seats signed a letter demanding that large venues return to their historical status — and reporters fear that the Biden press office’s practice of curating press allowed near the president may continue in future administrations.
“Who is blocked today may be different from who is blocked tomorrow — and since access curbs tend to stick around, it’s a worthwhile fight,” Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote in a July column.
Former Correspondents’ Association president Tom DeFrank of National Journal told The Post in June that he signed the letter because it was important to stop the erosion of historical norms. “Having covered the White House since June of 1968 as a Newsweek intern, I’ve seen a troubling erosion in access that was once routine,” DeFrank said.
It’s unclear why the White House has continued to pre-screen journalists allowed into the East Room and other venues such as an auditorium in the White House-adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Some journalists speculate that by pre-screening journalists, which requires press to submit an electronic RSVP, the White House is able to shape the coverage of Biden and the variety of questions he’s asked.
At one point, The Post, which published bombshell reports linking the president to his son Hunter’s overseas business dealings, was not allowed to attend presidential events through the opaque RSVP process for seven months. The rotating daily press pool, of which The Post is a member, also attends presidential events and the pool is not determined by the White House.
The press corps almost unanimously opposes the prescreening and Correspondents’ Association representatives have strongly urged the administration to revert to historical norms rather than pick and choose journalistic attendees.
The press corps’ June letter called out the lack of clarity in the process and said the process was “antithetical to the concept of a free press.”
“Let us be candid,” the letter said. “Our job is not to be liked, nor is it to be concerned about whether or not you like what we ask. Reporters’ ability to question the most powerful man in our government shouldn’t be discretionary… Any notion that space is ‘limited’ is not supported by the fact that every other president before Biden (including Trump) allowed full access to the very same spaces without making us fill out a request form prior to admittance.”