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Biden 'Cheat Sheet' Raises Question of Collusion Between White House, Media
The White House and a newspaper are denying there was collusion this week when a reporter asked President Joe Biden a question very similar to what was written on a card Biden held while facing journalists in the White House Rose Garden.
"We do not have specific questions in advance. That's not something that we do," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded when asked at Thursday's briefing about the president's pocket card, titled "Question # 1," which contained the name and photograph of Los Angeles Times correspondent Courtney Subramanian, along with a question: "How are YOU squaring YOUR domestic priorities — like reshoring semiconductors manufacturing — with alliance-based foreign policy?"
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Close-up images of the “cheat sheet” were captured by multiple news photographers in the Rose Garden, including this shot from AFP’s Brendan Smialowski.
Biden, alongside visiting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday, called first on Subramanian, who asked: "Your top economic priority has been to build up U.S. domestic manufacturing in competition with China, but your rules against expanding chip manufacturing in China is hurting South Korean companies that rely heavily on Beijing. Are you damaging a key ally in the competition with China to help your domestic politics ahead of the election?"
Biden responded with an extensive and nuanced comment on the topic.
Jean-Pierre explained the following day that Subramanian was one of two correspondents called on by Biden because California has the largest Korean American community of any U.S. state.
"We are mindful on who we pick and who we want to communicate out to," added Jean-Pierre. Her response did not satisfy the briefing room audience. Among those denied an opportunity to ask a follow-up question about the matter was Jon Decker, White House correspondent for Gray Television, whose career spans 16 White House press secretaries and five presidencies.
"I was just simply trying to ask her is it her contention that the question that everyone could read on that so-called cheat sheet was not similar to the question that was asked at the White House press conference? And it was similar," he told my VOA News colleague, White House bureau chief Patsy Widakuswara.
"I've never seen an instance where the president is being given a question from a reporter that covers the president at a pre-announced White House press conference," Decker added. "It really reflects poorly on the White House press corps, and it reflects poorly on the White House for allowing that to happen. It seems like there's collusion, and for the public that has distrust, skepticism and even disdain for the media, it doesn't put us in a good light."
The White House continued to rebuff inquiries following Thursday's briefing.
"Karine addressed this very clearly and in-depth in the briefing room today," responded principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton to VOA, which attempted to pursue the topic of presubmitted questions to the president.
Subramanian has not commented. Her newspaper issued a statement to inquiries from media organizations.
"Our reporter did not submit any questions in advance of the Q&A with President Biden," said Hillary Manning, vice president of communications for the Los Angeles Times. Subramanian "is in regular contact with the White House press office seeking information for her reporting. You would have to ask the White House who prepared the document for the president and why they included that question."
April Ryan, Washington bureau chief of The Grio, who refers to herself as the longest-serving black female journalist covering the White House, said while it is not unusual for presidents to have a card listing journalists who could potentially be called on, she had never seen one that contained a picture of the reporter and the "actual question itself."
Ryan told VOA it is routine prior to news conferences for the president and his principals, who help him with messaging, to discuss potential questions but what occurred Wednesday seemed unprecedented.
Kayleigh McEnany, a press secretary in the previous administration of Donald Trump, on the set of Fox News on Thursday, said "it's very unordinary to have the question as specific as semiconductors as they pertain to alliances written out and scripted for the president."
A correspondent, who asked not to be named and covers the White House for a foreign broadcaster, told VOA: "It raises questions of not only President Biden needing a heads up to come up with answers but also transparency of how the White House chooses who gets to ask questions. It is frustrating for reporters who aren't in their inner circle."
The president of the White House Correspondents' Association, Tamara Keith of National Public Radio, declined to comment on the issue. The association noted it has no involvement on who gets called on by presidents at news conferences.
During the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, those presidents had a seating chart to know where to find a sympathetic questioner, said Charles Bierbauer, who was CNN's senior White House correspondent from 1983-1993.
"The guessing game between the press and the White House has long been to figure out who might ask what of the president at news conferences,” he told me via e-mail on Thursday.
“I recall presidential aides gleefully telling us when they had anticipated every question. My pattern was to be prepared for the questions I knew I had to ask but always have kind of an offbeat question, too," recalled Bierbauer, distinguished professor and dean emeritus at the College of Information and Communications at the University of South Carolina.
It is not uncommon for the White House to let a reporter know he or she will be called on during a news conference and to query the reporter about what they might ask, according to former CBS Radio White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who covered eight presidents from Gerald Ford to Trump.
"As a reporter, I always prepared questions on a number of subjects," Knoller told me. "More often than not the White House knows what subjects a reporter is interested in based on questions at briefings and inquiries made previously to the press office. I can't believe a reporter worth his or her salt would give a detailed question in advance."
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