White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre resumed her regular briefings last week after a light schedule in August. But missing from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room were some of the 442 reporters who lost their credentials because of the Biden administration’s new rules restricting press access.
The decision to remove these reporters—including The Daily Signal’s Fred Lucas—drew not a peep from the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization whose mission is quite literally “to ensure a free press and robust coverage of the presidency by advocating for access to the president, White House events and administration officials.” (Emphasis mine.)
The lack of outrage from journalists—many of whom vehemently protested even the slightest snub from then-President Donald Trump—wasn’t lost on Sean Spicer, who served as Trump’s first press secretary and now hosts “The Sean Spicer Show.”
“The folks who cover the White House love to wrap themselves in the First Amendment and talk about it,” Spicer told The Daily Signal. “The reality is, they don’t really care about the First Amendment as much as they care about themselves.”
He added, “They love the fact of making sure that there are fewer voices, especially like The Daily Signal and Fred Lucas, because then you have to take their word. If Fred can ask a question, if Fred can insert real reporting and coverage, then it undermines their ability to control the narrative.”
While serving as Trump’s press secretary in 2017, Spicer took the opposite approach to President Joe Biden’s press office. Rather than restrict press access as Jean-Pierre has done, Spicer expanded it. Trump welcomed new voices to the mix, offering talk-radio hosts and reporters more than 50 miles outside of Washington an opportunity to participate in White House press briefings.
Reporters from media outlets across the country, using new “Skype seats” introduced by Spicer, asked dozens of questions during his tenure.
Today, the opposite is happening. The press briefing room is more restricted under Biden than any time in recent history. Lucas, for example, began covering the White House during the Obama administration in 2009 and regularly attended briefings for both Democratic and Republican presidents—until now.
“I am unbelievably disappointed in—and not shocked, just disappointed—at the lack of coverage that the media gave to this. They’re so quick to talk about and wave a flag when a journalist is attacked,” Spicer told The Daily Signal. “I don’t have a problem with that, but I’m saying it’s funny how the second that the White House shuts out anybody who’s not part of the corporate, legacy left-wing media, they keep their mouths quiet.”
Politico’s West Wing Playbook reported in August that 442 reporters no longer have White House press credentials after Biden’s press office implemented new rules. They require reporters to be employed full time at an organization that disseminates news; live in the Washington, D.C., area; regularly access and cover the White House; and submit to a Secret Service investigation. They also now require pass holders to first obtain “accreditation by a press gallery in either the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, or Supreme Court.”
That last requirement resulted in Lucas and others losing their “hard pass.” The White House initially granted Lucas a 10-day extension, which expired in early August. He’s currently awaiting a decision on his applications to Congress and the Supreme Court, which now effectively have control over who can access the White House.
The new rules also give Biden’s press team greater power to expel journalists who don’t “act in a professional manner.” Simon Ateba, the White House correspondent for Today News Africa, regularly sparred with Jean-Pierre, leading to stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and an appearance on the since-canceled “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” The White House press office sent Ateba a warning that he risked expulsion if he continued to interrupt briefings in violation of the new rules.
Ateba, who lost his hard pass in August because of those new rules, took his case to court. He announced Wednesday that a judge would expediate the matter.
“I will still have to apply for a day pass for the next couple of weeks until the final ruling comes at the end of this month or early next month,” Ateba wrote. “So, it’s both good and bad at the same time. It’s bad, because I don’t have my hard pass; but it’s good, because the case is being expedited, and the final ruling is approaching.”
If he prevails, Ateba would follow in the footsteps of CNN reporter Jim Acosta and former Playboy correspondent Brian Karem. Both were booted from the White House during the Trump administration, although each took his case to court and eventually won reinstatement.
Unlike those two high-profile cases, however, few reporters are standing up in support of Ateba or even speaking out critically of the new rules. The White House Correspondents’ Association “has taken an officially noncommittal stance,” according to The Washington Post.
In his interview with The Daily Signal, Spicer singled out Kelly O’Donnell, a senior White House correspondent for NBC News who is currently president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, among others.
“There was no outrage from The Washington Post to The New York Times,” Spicer said. “Kelly O’Donnell from NBC News, who’s the third-string reporter that is now president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said absolutely nothing. They will all have their big dinner, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and hang out with all the celebrities and talk about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press and transparency and access, unless it’s somebody else.”
The Daily Signal reached out to O’Donnell for comment. She did not respond.
It’s unclear when the Congress or Supreme Court will make a final determination on Lucas’ application, a process that can take months, at least with the congressional galleries—meaning he could be waiting for the White House’s “required materials” for some time.
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