Jan 31, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House plans to bypass national media

Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki answers her first set of public questions via Twitter

Jen Psaki answers her first set of public questions. Via Twitter.

President Biden's team knows his national media honeymoon is coming to an end, so it's preparing to speak directly to the American people through local reporters and avoid distractions with its anti-Trumpian approach of ignoring Twitter.

Why it matters: The White House controlled the narrative for the first 12 days with daily themes and choreographed executive orders, but its communicators know they must be innovative as the press corps steps up its independent scrutiny, and they try to sell initiatives like a coronavirus relief package.

  • “It will get harder," said Pili Tobar, a White House deputy communication director. "Discipline is the name of the game."

The strategy: Vice President Kamala Harris inaugurated one approach last week by giving interviews with newspapers and TV stations in West Virginia and Arizona. Those are two states where Biden will need the votes of Democratic senators to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill.

  • But that end-around is fraught with risks and may have backfired in West Virginia. Sen Joe Manchin told a local station: "That’s not a way of working together."

Biden officials also plan to create more of their own content and revive a version of the “West Wing Week,” a behind-the-scenes video series produced by the Obama White House.

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has already answered questions submitted by the public and was trailed by a crew from "The Circus," a cable program popular with politicos.
  • There are additional plans for outreach through Skype, YouTube and Twitter.
  • "We're going to have some fun new spins on some of the old traditions," said Kate Berner, also a White House deputy communications director.

Message management: The White House is being especially careful with its most valuable communications currency: pronouncements from Biden himself.

  • Aides have spent that capital by putting the president at center stage to sign executive orders and give scripted remarks on their story of the day. That furnishes fresh images and soundbites for the network’s evening news.
  • They save it by limiting Biden's exposure to journalists. The president took questions from just five preselected reporters Monday, but Biden himself called on Fox News' Peter Doocy and also made some newsy comments to CNN's Kaitlan Collins after she bumped into him in a West Wing corridor.

Between the lines: Psaki didn’t take the bait from reporters in the briefing room when they asked questions about controversial statements from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

  • Psaki said she didn't want to "elevate conspiracy theories."
  • Berner added: "We didn't let our eye get taken off the ball by what's going on on Twitter, or what the press corps is popping into Lower Press (at the White House) to ask about."
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