The issue is an old tradition in the room to have an Associated Press reporter at the front row of the briefing room to open the briefing with the first question and call an end to the briefing by saying, “Thank you,” to the press secretary, which is the signal allowing the press secretary to leave.
That role was usually determined by seniority and filled for many years by leftist reporter Helen Thomas.
The tradition was widely ignored by the Trump administration as press secretaries typically came to the podium and left as they chose, while reporters struggled to control their frustrations.
But the Biden administration restored the tradition by giving the authority in the room to whatever reporter sitting in the Associated Press seat.
On Monday, after just 40 minutes, the Associated Press reporter, Josh Boak, announced, “Thank you,” to White House press secretary Jen Psaki even though reporters in the back of the room still had questions.
New York Post reporter Steven Nelson vocally protested the Associated Press for ending the briefing prematurely, which sparked a discussion from others in the room who protested their power to end the briefing.
The White House press corps just had a grueling debate among members after Jen Psaki's briefing
A wire reporter in front row called briefing over after about 40 minutes. I told him we had more questions in the back and others agreed
— Steven Nelson (@stevennelson10) March 7, 2022
The incident is rare, as most White House reporters team up to get as much access as they can from the White House through the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA).
But in recent months, mainstream reporters in the front of the room are getting more access, as broadcast correspondents typically get multiple questions and follow-up questions every day, even if they are on the same subject.
Frustrated reporters in the back of the room rarely get called on, despite attending the briefings multiple times every week.
Video of the briefing captured on C-SPAN showed the dissatisfied reporters in the room protesting and the front row reacting to the protest before the cameras were cut.
The AP's Josh Boak quickly left, leaving CBS News Radio correspondent & White House Correspondents Association prez Steven Portnoy to deal with the room.
This went on for at least six minutes (as the camera feed cut out, but again, no audio). Some were taping it on their phones. pic.twitter.com/vav2Jj5Pdu
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) March 7, 2022
Protesting reporters in the room recorded the audio of the debate, sharing it to demonstrate the conversation that occurred after the briefing.
1/ NEW: Per audio I have obtained and 2 sources in the room at the time there was a big fight at the end of the White House briefing today over the authority of the Associated Press to effectively end the briefing when many people from non MSM outlets in back still have questions
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) March 7, 2022
Veteran White House reporter Lynn Sweet suggested the Associated Press should no longer have the power to end the briefing to which many reporters in the front row said that it was up to the White House staff to make the decision.
The incident demonstrates a rare public flash of dissent between reporters and will certainly be addressed at length in future WHCA meetings.