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A radio host resigned after interviewing Biden with questions provided by his campaign

Andrea Lawful-Sanders, pictured in August 2021, resigned from her hosting position at WURD Radio after interviewing Biden with questions provided by his campaign.
Arturo Holmes
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Andrea Lawful-Sanders, pictured in August 2021, resigned from her hosting position at WURD Radio after interviewing Biden with questions provided by his campaign.

A Philadelphia radio host has parted ways with her station after interviewing President Biden with questions provided by his campaign, a move prohibited by many newsrooms including her own.

Andrea Lawful-Sanders is one of two journalists — both hosts of Black radio shows in critical swing states — who acknowledged over the weekend that the Biden camp had fed them questions for interviews earlier in the week.

Their admissions come at a time when the president is already facing heightened scrutiny and trying to do damage control following his shaky performance in last month’s debate against former President Donald Trump.

Lawful-Sanders hosted The Source on WURD Radio, an independent Black-owned talk radio station serving Philadelphia. She spoke to Biden on July 3, in what the station called his first media appearance since the debate.

In the 14-minute interview, which aired the following morning, Biden stressed the power of Black voters and outlined some of his administration’s wins for Black communities, such as supporting HBCUs and nominating the first Black female Supreme Court justice.

The president also spoke last week with Earl Ingram, the host of The Earl Ingram Show, which broadcasts across Wisconsin. That 18-minute interview covered nearly identical themes, with Biden weighing in on the stakes of the election, particularly for Black communities, and highlighting his accomplishments.

Both interviews made their way into the national spotlight on Saturday when Lawful-Sanders and Ingram discussed them in a joint appearance on CNN’s First of All.

Host Victor Blackwell pointed out that each asked Biden “essentially the same” four questions about his accomplishments, debate performance, the stakes of the election and message to apathetic voters.

He asked: Had the hosts been given questions from the White House or campaign, or been required to submit theirs ahead of time?

“And the reason I ask is not a criticism of either of you,” Blackwell said. “It’s just that if the White House is trying now to prove the vim, vigor, acuity of the president, I don’t know how they do that by sending questions first before the interview so that the president knows what's coming.”

Lawful-Sanders acknowledged that “the questions were sent to me for approval.”

“I got several questions, eight of them, and the four that were chosen were the ones that I approved,” she added.

Ingram didn’t answer, but separately told the Associated Press on Saturday that Biden aides sent him a list of four questions in advance, adding, “There was no back and forth.”

He said while the predetermined list had given him pause, he moved forward because “this was an opportunity to talk to the president of the United States.”

NPR has confirmed that the Biden campaign — as opposed to the White House — engaged with the hosts ahead of their interviews.

Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt defended the move in a statement, saying it’s “not at all an uncommon practice for interviewees to share topics they would prefer” and that the questions asked of Biden were “relevant to the news of the day.”

“We do not condition interviews on acceptance of these questions, and hosts are always free to ask the questions they think will best inform their listeners,” she added.

In the wake of the controversy, the campaign decided to stop offering suggested questions, a source familiar with the campaign’s media booking operation said, speaking on condition of anonymity to comment on private discussions.

The Biden administration has faced criticism from the media about its relative lack of access since long before the debate.

Biden has engaged in fewer press conferences and media interviews than any of the last seven presidents at this point in their terms, according to an analysis shared with NPR by presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar.

As of June 30, Biden had held 36 press conferences and given 128 media interviews, trailing George W. Bush’s second-fewest of 166. However, he had engaged in far more informal settings with small “pools" of journalists (588) than any other recent president, except for Trump (664).

The practice of accepting interview questions from subjects is widely frowned upon in most newsrooms. On Sunday, WURD Radio and Lawful-Sanders separately announced the end of their working relationship.

WURD Radio President and CEO Sara Lomax said in a statement that the July 3 interview was “arranged and negotiated independently by … Lawful-Sanders without knowledge, consultation or collaboration with WURD management.”

“The interview featured pre-determined questions provided by the White House, which violates our practice of remaining an independent media outlet accountable to our listeners,” Lomax wrote. “As a result, Ms. Lawful-Sanders and WURD Radio have mutually agreed to part ways, effective immediately.”

Lomax went on to say that the station is not a “mouthpiece for the Biden or any other Administration.” She said WURD Radio seeks to “grow from this incident,” and committed to internally reviewing its policies and practices in the hopes of reinforcing its independence and regaining listeners’ trust.

Lawful-Sanders confirmed in a brief video posted to Facebook that she had tendered her resignation on Saturday and was no longer an on-air host. She thanked everyone who “played a part in this journey,” including WURD Radio and the listening audience and hinted at more to come.

“Life is moving. Things are shifting and changing,” she added. “And, in a day or so you’ll hear more.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.