White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped a transparency question from a reporter during Tuesday’s daily briefing.
In mid-January, just days before now-President Joe Biden assumed office, Psaki announced the incoming administration would make the West Wing visitor log publicly available again, reversing a controversial decision made by then-President Donald Trump in 2017 to privatize the list.
While the policy announcement sounds on its face like a pledge of transparency, it’s important to acknowledge — as Psaki did in her tweet — that there aren’t many people physically visiting the West Wing right now.
In lieu of in-person visits, Biden is meeting with lawmakers, dignitaries, and international leaders via digital calls. There is no public log of those meetings.
“Obviously, you guys are not having a lot of visitors due to the pandemic,” the reporter said. “To the extent that these calls are taken on virtually, is there any talk about a virtual visitor log or some kind of transparency on how those virtual meetings are being disclosed to the public?”
Psaki offered a meandering response.
“Well, our pledge is to be, venture to be, hope to be, the most ethical — ethically stringent government in history,” she said. “And we’ve put in place — [Biden’s] put in place a number of steps and policies to deliver on exactly that. You’re right that there aren’t currently many visitors. At some point, hopefully, there will be, and we’ll be returning to the release of those visitor logs. That was not the case during the prior administration. At this point, there’s not a discussion of making virtual meetings part of what’s released.”
Tuesday’s press briefing came the same day the Daily Beast published a report suggesting the White House communications team has attempted to screen journalists’ questions for Psaki ahead of her daily pressers.
“While it’s a relief to see briefings return, particularly with a commitment to factual information, the press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want,” one White House correspondent told the Daily Beast. “That’s not really a free press at all.”
On Jan. 20, during her first briefing as White House press secretary, Psaki promised reporters she would bring “transparency and truth back to the briefing room,” a dig against former President Donald Trump’s administration.