White House Claims Radio Station Manufactured Karine Jean-Pierre Interview Drama

Craig Hudson/Reuters
Craig Hudson/Reuters

The White House on Tuesday suggested a North Carolina radio station was manufacturing controversy over the way an interview with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre ended, saying the station didn’t air portions of it and attached a sound effect after Jean-Pierre hung up.

In the audio, Jean-Pierre called out WBT Charlotte news director Mark Garrison for an “incredibly offensive” and “insulting” question about President Joe Biden’s health during the phone interview earlier in the day, and minutes later ended the chat by cordially thanking the interviewer for his time and hanging up.

The White House contended in a statement to The Daily Beast that Jean-Pierre had offered the interviewer seven minutes of her time, sandwiched between other interviews, and that the station was well aware of their own time constraints.

WBT Charlotte did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the White House’s statement.

Jean-Pierre appeared on the station the same day Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were in the Tar Heel State for a health care-related event with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, in which the pair urged Congress to extend Affordable Care Act tax credits and lower prescription drug prices.

At one point during the aired interview, Jean-Pierre was asked whether Biden has “dementia.”

“When I told a number of people that I was talking to you today, it was interesting, though,” Garrison began. “They all said, ‘Would you please just ask her, ‘Does the president have dementia?’ So before I move on from it, does he?”

“Mark,” Jean-Pierre replied, “I can’t even believe you’re asking me this question. That is an incredibly offensive question to ask.”

“But you know people ask it,” Garrison responded.

Recently, the Biden campaign has been working to counter attacks on the president’s mental acuity from Donald Trump, who will be 78 himself on election day. In his first major ad buy of the year earlier this month, the 81-year-old commander-in-chief addressed his age by using humor and connecting it to his years of experience in government. Biden exhibited the same attitude during his State of the Union address earlier this month.

While in Raleigh Tuesday, furthermore, Biden joked that he was “only 40 years old, times two, plus one.”

Jean-Pierre shot back at Garrison for questioning Biden’s abilities, adding that that was taking them down a “rabbit hole.”

“Let me be very clear about this: For the past several years, the president's physician has laid out in a very comprehensive way the president’s health. This is a president—if you watch him every day, if you really pay attention to his record and what he has done, you will see exactly how focused he’s been on the American people, how historic his actions have been,” she said. “And so I’m not even going to truly, truly…take the premise of your question. I think it is incredibly insulting, and so we can, you know, move on to the next question.”

Garrison continued: “Gas prices and grocery prices then—big topics in North Carolina,” he said. “How does Mr. Biden win votes when people don’t have as much disposable income?”

Jean-Pierre began by referencing Biden’s upbringing.

“Look, the president understands. He grew up in a middle-class family, a working-class family in Scranton, PA. He gets it,” she said. “He understands how difficult it is for American who are sitting around their kitchen table every month trying to figure out what they’re going to pay for.”

After crediting Biden for the drop in gas prices over the past year, Jean-Pierre said that prices for eggs, milk, seafood and “all the important groceries” have “gone down because of what this president has been able to do.”

“And with that,” Jean-Pierre concluded, “thank you so much, Mark. Have an amazing, amazing day.”

The sound of a busy signal followed. “She hung up,” Garrison said, while another male in the studio—whose identity was not immediately known—seemed surprised. “Wow!” he exclaimed, later accusing Jean-Pierre of showing “fragility” in the face of Garrison’s questions.

But in a statement to The Daily Beast, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates suggested the radio station was ginning up controversy over the seemingly abrupt hang-up.

“As she often does when the President travels, Karine had multiple back-to-back interviews with radio stations who were each offered seven minutes. Once the agreed-upon time was over, she called into the next interview so everyone could get their full time,” Bates said. “This particular station chose not to air the full interview and instead artificially attached a sound effect that our phones do not make when calls end.”

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