White House briefings are usually pretty boring affairs, with the press secretary playing the role of a second-grade teacher trying to keep unruly students in line.
But on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was forced to play the role of boxing referee when a reporter for an African news outlet got tired of being passed over for questions and exploded at her.
Jean-Pierre had called on Chris Johnson, correspondent for the Washington Blade, but Angolan TV anchor Hariana Veras attempted to ask her own question. She complained that she had been “asking you for a question for a long time.”
As Veras interrupted while Johnson spoke, Jean-Pierre said, “You are not being respectful. To your own colleagues.” As Veras continued, Jean-Pierre said, “Respect your colleagues.”
Ms. Veras is not the only African reporter to feel slighted by KJP.
Veras complained earlier this month when Jean-Pierre did not call on her during a briefing. As she attempted to ask a question and told Jean-Pierre, “Why do we always have to beg for questions? Africans deserve questions as well.” Jean-Pierre did call on Simon Ateba, chief White House correspondent for Today News Africa, who also has interrupted during the briefings to complain that the White House was not taking questions about Africa.
What is it about black reporters that KJP doesn’t like?
It’s rare that a press secretary actually loses control of a briefing like that. But KJP is not your typical White House press secretary. There have been complaints in the past from reporters that she never comments on stories beyond the set talking points developed by Biden’s communications team.
There’s more to the job than that.
Several members of the pool complained in July that Jean-Pierre has a tendency to give non-answers or say outright that the White House has no comment on the news of the day.
“She is poorly received as she isn’t taking time to answer questions or banter with reporters on the issues of the day,” one White House reporter said at the time. “A press secretary has to share some information, kind of a give and take, but she just doesn’t appear willing to do that yet. … Too often, she is telling reporters that she ‘has nothing from the podium’ to say, which is a waste of everyone’s time.”
Maybe KJP will grow into the job. Maybe she’ll learn how to run a press briefing without reporters wondering why they couldn’t just have gotten a handout giving them the day’s talking points. Perhaps someday soon, she’ll learn how to gain the respect of reporters so that they don’t whine and complain in public that they and their banana republic news organization are being disrespected.
There’s an art to being a press secretary. Maybe KJP will learn, but she’s demonstrated a rare cluelessness about the job. She’s a human talking point, and that may be the best that Biden could hope for, even if she is the first openly gay, black White House press secretary in history.