Tensions rise between White House and press corps over Biden’s health

Things accelerated on Monday afternoon when White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre faced a press corps that had grown increasingly frustrated over the past week.

“My first (question) for you is about the credibility of the White House in talking about the president’s health,” said Associated Press correspondent Zeke Miller.

CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe soon lashed out at Jean-Pierre for failing to provide information about doctor visits to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“Karine, you’re not answering the question. It’s a very basic, direct question,” he said.

Jean-Pierre, apparently taken aback by his tone, asked O’Keefe to “show a little respect.”

Monday’s briefing was emblematic of the growing divide between the White House and the reporters who cover it. It’s a press corps that has for years chafed at the fact that it has less access to President Biden than it would like, as he gives fewer interviews and holds fewer press conferences than his predecessors.

After Biden’s faltering performance during the June 27 debate against Donald Trump, Jean-Pierre faced pointed questions and aggressive pushback from journalists over changing official accounts of the president’s health and care.

“There’s very little trust at the moment and it’s really frustrating,” said one correspondent, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “I think everyone’s pissed off. It’s the lid coming off after 3½ years of pressure cooking, of shutting us out.”

During that briefing on Monday, correspondents grew frustrated because Jean-Pierre would not explain why an expert on Parkinson’s disease had met multiple times with the White House’s top physician, public records show.

The White House would clarify that evening that the doctor, Kevin Cannard, had simply performed the neurological component of the president’s annual medical exam — but only after Jean-Pierre initially told reporters she could not identify specific doctors. On Tuesday night, Jean-Pierre clarified that she had misspoken when she suggested during the briefing that a doctor’s visit on January 17 had nothing to do with Biden.

“You’ve let this fester longer, Karine, unless the White House answers the question,” O’Keefe said, after the press secretary declined to name the doctor, citing privacy concerns. “We’re a little bit irritated here about the way information about him has been shared with the press.”

“I’m not going to share that,” Jean-Pierre replied. “It doesn’t matter how hard you push me, it doesn’t matter how angry you get at me.”

Monday’s confrontations reminded some reporters of the Trump administration, when tensions ran high between reporters and press officers such as Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kayleigh McEnany, all of whom seemed to relish confrontations with members of the media.

“It was the most Trump briefing I’ve attended since Trump left office,” the anonymous correspondent added.

The questions from reporters began flying as soon as Biden left the debate stage on June 27. But they increased in intensity and directness during a press conference the following Tuesday, when NBC News correspondent Kelly O’Donnell, one of the deans of the White House press corps, asked Jean-Pierre whether “anyone in the White House is withholding information about the president’s health or his ability to do his job on a day-to-day basis.”

Another reporter asked Jean-Pierre, “Are you being honest with the American people about this?”

That day, and during the briefings that took place After this, Jean-Pierre has largely ignored calls from reporters for more information about Biden’s health than has already been released.

“I feel like this is the most secretive and cloistered presidency I’ve ever covered,” said correspondent Brian Karem, a writer for Salon, who famously clashed with Trump’s press officers. “Every indication is that the way they’re doing business indicates that the press and public access to this president is not a high priority. And that’s a mistake.”

Jean-Pierre also drew fire for giving different versions of Biden’s recent medical history. She initially told reporters that he hadn’t had a checkup since February. She later clarified that the president had had brief verbal “check-ins” with his doctor, including one after the debate.

“It was not my intention to mislead anyone,” she said Monday.

Jean-Pierre has consistently said in briefings that questions about Biden’s age and vitality are legitimate. And during Monday’s session, she acknowledged that she made mistakes.

“I’ll be the first to admit: Sometimes I get it wrong,” she said. “At least I admit that.”

In response to criticism, the White House has defended Jean-Pierre’s performance while also arguing that the Biden administration has been transparent and accessible to the media. Officials emphasized the number of general interactions the president has had with the media, including the more informal “gaggles.”

“She answers tough questions day in and day out, provides thorough answers, and represents President Biden and his agenda to the American people with grace and integrity,” deputy spokeswoman Andrew Bates told The Post on Wednesday.

He added: “We also listen carefully to reporters because they honor their important role in seeking more information. Joe Biden has always said it is fair for reporters to ask his age and has always confidently presented his values ​​and agenda to the American people.”

Will Sommer contributed to this report.

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