CNN's Oliver Darcy led off the Tuesday night "Reliable Sources" newsletter with the headline "The Pressed Secretary." His first line: "Frustration among White House reporters with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is reaching a boiling point." Reporters who remained anonymous expressed newfound anger at the guff from the podium:
That is according to conversations I had on Wednesday with more than a half-dozen White House reporters who painted a picture of a White House press corps that has grown exasperated with Jean-Pierre and does not believe she is well equipped to handle their inquiries. The reporters, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely, pointed to Jean-Pierre's insistence on sticking to talking points and an episode last week where a key assertion she made from the podium ultimately did not hold up.
"She is arguably the least effective White House press secretary of the television era," one veteran White House reporter told me on Wednesday, adding that the comparison excluded the Trump White House.
Let's guess the "veteran" reporter made this statement, and then faced Darcy insisting no one can be as terrible with the press as the Trump White House.
Then Darcy added a comical rebuttal from an anonymous White House source in a statement to CNN: "A lot of this sounds more like theater criticism than concern about ability to report facts for the American people’s benefit." Wrong! Reporters in this case are upset over lies about the Biden documents scandal.
Concerns inside the press corps with Jean-Pierre are not new. She has openly struggled to field basic questions inside the briefing room, relying, in agonizing fashion at times, on her binder of talking points to respond to simple inquiries. But the tension has escalated in recent days as President Joe Biden is confronted with questions about his past handling of classified documents.
"I think you can tell the temperature has gone up a lot in the last few days," one White House reporter remarked to me on Wednesday.
In recent days, Jean-Pierre has faced a noticeably vexed White House press corps that is openly revolting against her. Many of the questions she has fielded have not been about the subject matter, but have centered on her very credibility and how she has performed in the job.
On Tuesday, for instance, she was repeatedly pressed about why she did not disclose on Friday that more classified documents had been recovered Thursday evening, a significant development that came hours before she indicated to reporters that the search for additional material had concluded.
"On Friday, you stood here, though, and were asked about this documents issue, by our count, some 18 times," ABC News White House correspondent Cecilia Vega said. "At that point, the President’s lawyers had found these five additional pages of classified documents. So, did you not know on Friday that those documents had been found when you were at the podium? Or are you being directed by someone to not be forthcoming on this issue?"...
Later, NPR correspondent Tamara Keith, who is also president of the White House Correspondents' Association, asked, "Are you upset that you came out to this podium on Friday with incomplete and inaccurate information? And are you concerned that it affects your credibility up here?"
Anyone watching the briefing in recent says isn't really seeing a question-and-answer session as much as a question-and-stonewall session.
Those exchanges underscored the increasingly tumultuous dynamic playing out before cameras in the briefing room. Some of the reporters who spoke to me said they felt that asking questions at the briefings has become largely a fruitless endeavor as Jean-Pierre only robotically provides non-answers that have been prepared in advance.
"You just get the feeling that you're wasting your time and whatever is in front of her in the binder is all she is going to say, no matter how many times you ask the question," one White House reporter commented to me. "It's just a painful waste of time."
Can Jean-Pierre last at the White House if this document scandal goes on for months? Surely, Team Biden wishes they had a more talented stonewaller like Jen Psaki to handle the newly angered press corps.