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Taking a Cavalier Approach to Journalists’ Personal Space Wouldn’t Be New for Joe Biden Staffers

Joe Biden poses for photos with audience members during a rally Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Freelance journalist Marcus DiPaola tweeted Wednesday about negative interactions he said he and other reporters had experienced with Joe Biden staffers in Iowa: blocking cameras, putting themselves between reporters and the candidate, and whatever it is you call this:

Reached by email, DiPaola says he felt like Biden staffers “were treating this like some sort of fun game.” He apologized to one he said he bumped into after she prevented him from getting closer to the candidate, “and she gave me a big smile and was like ‘That’s okay!’ as if it was the most normal thing in the world to try and subvert the democratic process of candidate-press interactions.”

The Biden campaign has not yet responded to Washingtonian‘s request for comment.

Still, it’s worth mentioning that aggressive treatment of the press would not be new for people around Biden. In 2013 Kendra Barkoff, then Biden’s press secretary, apologized to Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, and Jeremy Barr, a reporter for the school’s Capital News Service, after a Biden staffer forced Barr to delete photos of Biden he took at a public event.

As Barr, who is now a reporter for the Hollywood Reporterrecalled the incident a year later:

The fun didn’t start until after the event concluded, and I milled around the room, killing time and watching Biden shake hands with some of the domestic violence advocates in attendance. That’s when I was approached by a young staffer and asked to delete my photos.

Much to my surprise, she told me that I had violated protocol by sitting in the general audience section rather than at the press table at the back of the room. As such, she said, I had gained an unfair advantage over the rest of the corps.

I protested — there was no signage, I was given no seating guidance, and I wore my press credentials at all times — but she was forceful. “I need to watch you delete those photos. All of them.” She even made me flip through the photos on my iPhone, probably concluding rightfully that I had an adorable baby niece. But no, no secret snapshots of the vice president.

She also essentially held me against my will, as I was told to wait while she called her supervisor and asked if she should also delete my audio recordings from the event. I was relieved to be able to keep those, as they were vital for my story.

Another story about Biden staffers treating reporters badly circulated a few years earlier: that they had held an Orlando Sentinel reporter in a closet. The reporter, Scott Powers, told Politico it was more like a storage room. Biden’s press operation called the incident an “unfortunate mistake of an inexperienced staffer.”

Looking back on these dustups in this political climate, it feels quaint to see a politician’s operation feel like it has to apologize to journalists because staffers threw their weight around inappropriately. It’ll be interesting to see how the current field of Democratic candidates handles these incidents as they arise.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.