Wednesday evening an ominous tweet appeared from the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA). It was announced that the association’s board voted to “remove a news outlet from the rotation for a seat in the briefing room.”
No doubt this tweet raised eyebrows from those reading it, that was certainly my reaction. Who was the reporter and why didn’t the association name the reporter or the organization involved in this move? If the association was making a public announcement, why not get all the information out there. It does represent reporters, you know. Were the glaring omissions just a way to create more of a buzz?
WHCA Statement on Removing News Organization from News Briefing Seat Rotation pic.twitter.com/KL3XcPq7Rt
— WHCA (@whca) April 1, 2020
Reactions ran along the usual partisan lines – conservatives mocked the suppression of freedom of the press and blasted the WHCA for not releasing the “who” of the 5 w’s of a story – who, what, when, where, and why.
So why not name the news organization?
It's extremely obvious why you're actually doing this.
— Lyndsey Fifield (@lyndseyfifield) April 1, 2020
Liberals applauded the announcement. Soon enough other reporters were tweeting out the scoop. The reporter is Chanel Rion, a White House correspondent for One America News Network, a small conservative cable news outlet.
Good. They shouldn't be allowed into the White House in the first place.
— Jessy Han (@hjessy_) April 1, 2020
CNN and MSNBC cut away from the briefing early. They don’t need seats at all. @realDonaldTrump needs to fix this.
— Ben Thankan (@BenThankan) April 1, 2020
And, this tweet pointed to a little bit of irony:
You unironicaly tweeted this yesterday. Pot, meet kettle. https://t.co/iz44Y2Ddj2
— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) April 1, 2020
Well, everyone got all wee-weed up but the truth is, Ms. Rion was violating social distancing rules and so she lost her seat in the White House briefing room. As it turns out, the WHCA is practicing social distancing guidelines during the daily press briefings with President Trump and the COVID-19 task force. If a news organization doesn’t have one of the 14 seats available in the rotation of the White House correspondents, that organization’s reporter is not allowed at the briefing. Simple enough, right? There are 14 seats available each day and there is some kind of rotation system in place. Ms. Rion not once but twice violated the social distancing policy when she showed up two days without officially having a seat assigned to OANN. She was not supposed to be there.
The WHCA asked reporters in March not to attend White House press briefings if they do not have a seat. The association has limited seating in the briefing room to 14 outlets per day in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The WHCA Board in an email to correspondents did not name the reporter or the outlet in question but said the reporter twice attended White House briefings “in contravention” of the policy.
OANN did not have a seat in the briefing room on Tuesday or Wednesday yet Ms. Rion showed up and participated by asking questions to President Trump. The Washington Post reports that the White House bent the rules and gave her permission to be in the briefing – she is known for her softball questions to the president and he likes OANN, especially as FNC becomes more critical of him in their reporting.
Rion and her employer, a tiny conservative cable outlet known as OANN, appear to have gotten special permission from the White House, in violation of the guidelines. The reasons, and the source of the approval, are unclear, but OANN and Rion have a history of reporting favorably about Trump. Rion herself has pushed conspiracy theories that advance his political interests, such as the unfounded allegation that officials in Ukraine secretly manipulated the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. Trump, in turn, has tweeted praise of OANN’s reporting dozens of times.
The White House, in effect, on Tuesday bent the rules — which were designed to ensure the health of journalists, the president and the nation’s top public-health officials — in granting access and a national spotlight to a correspondent from an obscure but Trump-friendly news outlet.
I’m all for calling out discriminatory actions against conservative media outlets but in this case, it looks like the decision was made by the WHCA after Rion’s second violation of the social distancing policy. There is also the fact that she stood at the back of the room during the press briefings. That in itself is a violation of the new rules. Those in attendance are to sit in their assigned seats, no standing allowed.
WHCA President Jonathan Karl (ABC News) says he alerted White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham after Rion’s first violation on Tuesday. OANN’s founder and CEO emailed a response to the action taken by WHCA.
In an email, OANN founder and chief executive Charles Herring said Rion’s presence “was appropriate” and that she was invited to attend the briefing. He declined to say who invited her or why.
It sounds as though OANN has lost its seat in the briefing room, at least for now, as a part of the WHCA vote. “We are writing to inform you that the WHCA Board has voted this evening to remove a news outlet from the rotation for a seat in the briefing room.” The conservative cable outlet is out of the briefing room because of their reporter’s behavior. In this case, it’s hard to blame anyone but her for that. Now, more than ever, social distancing guidelines should be adhered to while we try to flatten the curve, don’t you think?
Now the question is how long before President Trump gives Ms. Rion a sit-down interview on OANN?