BEN SULLIVAN WRITES – U.S. journalists in China have long griped that the government picks on them.

Specifically, they say, China retaliates against unfavorable coverage by withholding visas and access to top officials, barring reporters from important events, and even blocking the China editions of their employers’ web sites.

The country’s foreign ministry poo-poos it all, saying reporters are given wide freedom to do their jobs, provided they obey the law.

Joining the fray this month was Joe Biden, the loose-lipped but usually straight-talking U.S. vice president, who met with news bureau reps while on a two-day trip to Beijing. But even Smokin’ Joe didn’t seem to make much ground convincing China leaders to change their ways.

As reported somewhat gleefully by the likes of Reuters, the Associated Press, Bloomberg News and others, Biden told U.S. journalists, “Innovation will thrive where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences.”

“We have many disagreements, and some profound disagreements, on some of those issues right now, in the treatment of U.S. journalists,” Biden said. The V.P. reportedly gave the same message to Chinese leadership in three separate meetings, including with President Xi Jinping

As reported by the AP, nine journalists from the New York Times have not yet received visas to remain in China past Dec. 31, and at least 14 at Bloomberg News are in the same boat. The two news organizations have separately run investigative series exposing the wealth amassed by relatives of top Chinese leaders.

News outfits hope Biden’s involvement, and willingness to put himself in a position of losing face, may force China to hand over the documents.

While the U.S. news biggies covered the affair more or less straight, Washington, D.C.-based The Hill took a cheekier approach, relating an incident that went down after a photo op between Biden and Chinese Vice President Li Yuancho.

Biden, The Hill reports, mischievously told his counterpart that an American reporter covering the meeting was “a very important man.” After the two VPs shook hands for the cameras, Biden pointed at The Atlantic reporter Steve Clemons, who was shooting the event.

“He is a very important man. Seriously he is important,” Biden told Li. “You should speak to him…. He is the one you really want to speak to. Seriously.”

In their coverage of the Biden visit, neither China Daily not Xinhua news agency mentioned the journalism flap.