OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A New York Times reporter got into a testy confrontation with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre aboard Air Force One over the detention of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Russia.
It happened after President Joe Biden responded to a reporter’s question about detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
REPORTER: What’s your message to Russia right now as they’re detaining —
THE PRESIDENT: To whom?
REPORTER: To Russia as they’re detaining this Wall Street journalist (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: Let him go. We’re in the process.
Biden on the arrest of an American journalist from the WSJ: Let him go!
[Are you planning to expel Russian diplomats and journalists?]
Biden : That's not the plan right now. pic.twitter.com/fYN2VVaGcG
— GraphicW (@GraphicW5) March 31, 2023
Aboard Air Force One Jean-Pierre spoke to reporters as they headed to Mississippi to assess storm damage when her confrontation with New York Times reporter Michael Shear happened, a White House transcript showed.
JEAN-PIERRE: Michael, I — I understand the question, and I actually answered it. Every American that is detained, it is indeed a priority. This is the — something the President has said from the beginning of this administration. Every —
MICHAEL SHEAR: How did that answer the question?
JEAN-PIERRE: Because I just told you. It’s a priority. This is a priority.
MICHAEL SHEAR: The question was: How long will it take? And — and is the President going to tell the Secretary of State to accelerate it?
JEAN-PIERRE: Michael — Michael, I am telling you that there is a process. There are privacy concerns —
MICHAEL SHEAR: No, you’re saying things that aren’t the answer to the question. But I’m asking you: Will you answer the question?
JEAN-PIERRE: You may not like the answer to the question —
MICHAEL SHEAR: It isn’t an answer. (Laughs.)
JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. We can go back and forth, but you also have colleagues who want to ask me questions —
STEVE HOLLAND: Karine, was the President — was he briefed?
JEAN-PIERRE: So, I feel like I’m answering the question. Steve, you go.
This month Jean-Pierre had her feet held to the fire by an unlikely opponent in MSNBC host Chris Hayes.
She appeared on his primetime show when Hayes grilled her on the rumor that President Joe Biden’s administration was going to start detaining families at the border again to assist in scaling back the border crisis prior to the 2024 presidential election.
“There were reports that the White House was considering – or the Department Homeland Security was considering – reintroducing the practice of family detention,” the host said, as he mentioned that this “was harshly criticized” by Biden was campaigning against former President Donald Trump. “Is it true that that’s being considered?”
Jean-Pierre could have chosen to crush the rumor right there, but she danced around it.
“So, what I want to be very clear here – and I’ve answered this question as you know, Chris, many times in the briefing room, and we as an administration have as well – we are not gonna certainly comment on rumors or conversations that are out there that people are reporting on,” the White House press secretary said. “Those are rumors. What we are going to promise is that we’re going to do this – we’re going to move forward with a, with this kind of systems, immigration system, that has been gutted, really, truly gutted by the last administration.”
But Hayes pressed her.
“Just to follow up on that,” the host said. “I think if I said, ‘Are you gonna do child separation again?’ you’d say, ‘No, we’re not gonna do child separation,’ right? I mean, so it just seems like you could say like, ‘We’re not gonna do family detention.’ But you’re not saying that, which is fine as far as it goes, but I just want to be clear.”
But she again avoided giving a straight answer to the question.
“I think what you’re asking me, Chris, is to speak to rumors that are out there,” the press secretary said.
“And that is not something that we’re going to speak to any rumored conversation,” she said. “The moment that I talk about rumors or conversations that are out there, then it opens up a whole other conversation. So just wanna be mindful of that.”