A conservative television network is asking the White House to intervene in its feud with the White House Correspondent Association (WHCA), a private organization that controls access to the White House press briefing room.
In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, lawyers for One America News (OAN) network argue that the White House briefing room is federal property which can not be controlled by a private entity like the WHCA. As an example, the lawyers point to the Supreme Court, where press access is determined by the federal government.
The WHCA recently voted to ban OAN from briefings because one of the network’s reporters allegedly violated social distancing guidelines when she appeared at a press briefing as a guest of the White House press secretary. Despite the ban, Pellegrino and Rion continue to attend the briefings as guests of the White House press secretary but have been forced to stand in a roped-off corner area of the briefing room.
The attorneys argue that the WHCA actions against OAN are motivated by political bias. In contrast, the Public Information Office at the Supreme Court is expressly prohibited from determining press access based on the viewpoints of the media outlets.
“These acts against OAN are motivated by political and journalistic bias against OAN’s conservative viewpoint,” the letter states, arguing that OAN’s exclusion amounts to a violation of the network’s First Amendment rights.
“The constitutional case for the White House Press Office to take control over the Press Briefing Room seating arrangements and auxiliary space for White House journalists and to end the WHCA private monopoly over government property and otherwise in these matters is overwhelming,” the letter (pdf) states.
“To fail to do so would continue viewpoint based First Amendment exclusion and hijacking of public property for private gain that would shock most Americans.”
The letter warns that OAN may take legal action against the White House if no action is taken to remedy the alleged Constitutional violations. The White House is likely to ask the Justice Department to issue an opinion on the matter before taking action.
“If nothing changes, the White House itself may be vulnerable to suit for passive participation in constitutional violation,” the letter states.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The WHCA declined to comment.
In an attached exhibit, a letter to the Secret Service from OAN attorneys details instances in which Rion and Pellegrino were allegedly harassed, berated, and assaulted by other members of the media on White House grounds. The letter alleges that New York Times reporter Doug Mills bullied and advanced upon Rion causing her to retreat three times before she “escaped and left the White House grounds.” The letter also alleges that PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor chased Rion after a press conference, stormed toward her, yelled at her, and repeatedly advanced in Rion’s personal space.
The New York Times and PBS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
OAN requested that the Secret Service undertake an investigation into the claims.
“The Secret Service does not confirm or comment on the absence or existence of specific investigations,” a Secret Service spokesperson wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.
After demoting OAN’s seat in the briefing room three times, the WHCA voted to ban the network from the briefing room. According to the letter, OAN was not given notice of the revocation or an explanation as to why the network had been banned. The move was in violation of the network’s due process rights, the attorneys argue.
As a solution, the OAN legal counsel recommended that the White House adopt the Supreme Court’s approach for controlling access to the briefing room.
“Seat assignments in the Briefing Room or otherwise when space must be rationed should be made by the White House Press Office by using a lottery or a first-come, first-serve principle to safeguard viewpoint neutrality,” the letter states. “The same viewpoint neutral selection standards should apply if other White House space, equipment, or access must be rationed.”
In a separate dispute over access to the White House press room, the Justice Department weighed in last month telling CNN and Playboy that the briefing room is White House property and not the domain of private organizations.
CNN and Playboy reporter Brian Karem raised the dispute after he was placed in a rotating group of journalists due to social distancing guidelines even though Rion was exempted from the limitation as a guest of the White House. Karem’s lawyers argued that the White House engaged in viewpoint discrimination because Trump has previously complimented the network for covering him favorably.
OAN President Charles Herring told The Epoch Times that the White House’s invitation for OAN reporters served to correct an injustice carried out by the WHCA.
“What the White House press office recognized was that to kick out a voice in media is inappropriate simply because it doesn’t agree with the White House Correspondents’ Association. We appreciate what they recognized and what they did,” Herring said.
OAN launched on July 4, 2013. Herring had previously run the “A Wealth of Entertainment” cable TV network, which launched in 2004. President Donald Trump has lauded the network last year for “doing incredible reporting.”
Although OAN’s attorneys describe the network as conservative, Herring said the news anchors are prohibited from expressing opinions.
“There’s no doubt that our political talk shows have a center-to-right lean and for that reason we get branded as a conservative news outlet,” Herring said.