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Opinion How Fox News has dominated the White House briefing

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a briefing on June 2. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
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On Day 2 of the Biden administration, Fox News host Sean Hannity taunted White House press secretary Jen Psaki by hyping network White House correspondent Peter Doocy. “He will probably be one of the few people in the room that you will hate answering questions for every day,” said Hannity.

Good ol’ Hannity — wrong again. If Psaki, who last month ceded the briefing-room lectern to Karine Jean-Pierre, really “hated” calling on Doocy and colleague Jacqui Heinrich, she had a strange way of expressing it. Over the past 16 months, the internet has repeatedly lit up with transcript-heavy recaps of her tete-a-tetes with the 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.

Data from the White House itself upends Hannity’s prediction: From the beginning of the year through May 9, Biden aides took 347 questions from Fox personnel. Here’s how that figure compares with representatives of other major networks:

Kind of a blowout, huh? Remember: President Biden leads the party that sidelined Fox News from sponsoring any Democratic debates in the 2020 primary season; he served as vice president in the Obama administration, which had a famously nasty relationship with Fox News. The current incarnation of Fox News is every bit as 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,” notes a White House official via email, “and sometimes that takes a more extended back and forth with follow ups to ensure our point of view is adequately represented accurately and fairly by reporters.”

As this blog has previously reported, Biden advisers have long believed in reaching, rather than shunning, the Fox News audience, which includes sizable chunks of Democrats and independents. Toward that end, aides have even fed exclusives to FoxNews.com reporters from time to time. “The headlines from the sources that were the most surprising were the ones that had the most impact," a Biden 2020 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 at the unfiltered Biden position. Last September, for example, Hannity bashed the Biden administration for declaring that the Taliban had been “businesslike and professional” in facilitating the departure of Americans from Afghanistan.

So the host played a clip of Doocy and Psaki discussing the matter:

Doocy: “Can you explain a little bit more about why the White House in a statement is calling the Taliban businesslike and professional?”

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

Doocy: “You’re saying the Taliban is businesslike and professional. Their interior minister has an FBI wanted poster. He’s got a $10 million bounty on his head. That’s — what’s the business?”

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 press them and to work in a businesslike manner to get them out.”

Never does Hannity give the administration a fair shake; always he annotates the briefing-room repartee with snark. "Look at your screen. Take a look at that,” the host said after playing Psaki’s “businesslike” defense, “because that’s new footage showing Afghan women getting the hell beaten out of them in a demonstration in Kabul. And this is the group the Biden administration is calling businesslike and lecturing them that there’s not enough inclusivity here. Seriously?”

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

PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are seeing photos now of containers. Is there a better description? Is it containers instead of kids 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 is happening here. We have a number of unaccompanied minors, children who are coming into the country without their families. What we are not doing [which] the last administration did was separate those kids, rip them from the arms of their parents at the border. We are not doing that.

“Hypocrisy,” concluded Hannity. But at least a dissenting voice had crept into the proceedings. For context, that edition of “Hannity" featured commentary by 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 playbacks have continued into Jean-Pierre’s tenure, too. This past Thursday night, for instance, he showcased exchanges between Doocy and Jean-Pierre on inflation and gun violence. Doocy peppered Jean-Pierre with rapid-fire follow-up questions, a practice that might well account for Fox’s generous share on the tally above.

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

Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist who studies the briefings, found that the five major TV networks gobble up a disproportionate amount of time in them. Representatives from smaller outlets, who sit in the rows behind the networks and wire services, complained in early March that the big-footing ways of the networks left little time for them.

White House Correspondents’ Association President Steven Portnoy tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the group has advocated for the press secretaries to move around the room and include “the widest array of reporters from the widest variety of outlets.” A White House official says, “Jen and now Karine have always made an effort to get to as many questions as possible, and try to get around to ask many reporters in the briefing room as much as possible. And the vast majority of briefings last for at least 45 minutes, allowing for a variety of questions to be asked.”

The bottom line: Fox News boosted the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. It promotes racist theories that liberal elites are orchestrating the “great replacement” of White Americans. Yet it enjoys a preeminent spot in a White House briefing room managed by a Democratic administration.

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