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A widening rift between the White House Press Corps and the right-leaning One America News Network has led the latter to seek intervention from the Trump administration.
Specifically, OANN wants the White House to exert greater control over the briefing room after the nonprofit group that controls seating voted to ban the network for allegedly violating social distancing requirements.
The network’s legal counsel argued the White House has the authority to exert more control over the briefing room:
In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, legal counsel for OANN argued the White House is federal property and access to its press room should be governed in a manner similar to that of the U.S. Supreme Court, which does not have an outside 501c3 controlling press room access.
At present, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) takes care of the seating chart which limits media access to White House briefings. For years, conservative media outlets have complained that the WHCA is an organization dominated by Left-wing media conglomerates.
In addition, the WHCA also holds an annual dinner, but President Trump has skipped all three of them since he took office because he sees little point in rubbing elbows with news organizations that constantly attack him and his administration.
In a letter to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the legal counsel for @OANN argues the White House is federal property and access to its press room should be governed in a manner similar to that of the U.S. Supreme Court, not by the @WHCA. pic.twitter.com/oJcgk8a0Iy
— Alex Salvi (@alexsalvinews) May 2, 2020
The WHCA banned OANN in early April.
“As you are all aware, the WHCA issued a policy last month to restrict seating in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room to comply with CDC guidelines on social distancing,” the WHCA board wrote. “Under this policy, we have asked reporters who don’t have a seat not to attend press briefings.
“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. We did this because a report for this outlet twice attended press briefings in contravention of this policy. … We do not take this action lightly. This is a matter of public safety,” the statement continued.
WHCA Statement on Removing News Organization from News Briefing Seat Rotation pic.twitter.com/KL3XcPq7Rt
— WHCA (@whca) April 1, 2020
Notably, just a day before ejecting OANN from briefings, the WHCA’s official Twitter accounted tweeted a story from Axios with the headline, “Coronavirus is being used to suppress press freedoms globally.”
How the coronavirus is being used to suppress free press – even in democracies https://t.co/59BXAYUYxS
— WHCA (@whca) March 31, 2020
In any event, OANN White House reporter Chanel Rion has said that since being ejected she and weekend White House reporter Jenn Pellegrino have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by WHCA journalists, while also being forced to remain in a roped-off portion of the briefing room.
Still, OANN correspondents will have access to the press room “by special permission as guests of the White House press secretary,” Just The News reported.
Bruce Fein, a partner at the Fein & DelValle law firm that is serving as OANN legal counsel, said the press organization is engaging in viewpoint discrimination that puts conservative-leaning outlets at a distinct disadvantage because they don’t share the political opinions held by most WHCA members.
The attorney said the law states that access to public forums like the White House press briefing room requires them to be “viewpoint-neutral.” Fein added he would advise the White House to begin using a first-come, first-served lottery system to determine seating arrangements.
“The evidence compels the conclusion that WHCA has discriminated against OAN in the allocation of Briefing Room seat assignments and auxiliary space for desks and live hits on the White House lawn based on viewpoint,” Fein wrote in his letter to Meadows.
“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,” he added. “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.”
In an interview with the news site, Fein said that the WHCA’s control over who gets access to the briefing room is not codified or protected in law.
“It has no ownership over the property,” he told Just The News. “It has no leasehold interest over the property. It doesn’t decide who is a trespasser … this government property site is dedicated for public use. It’s not for the private use of the White House Correspondents’ Association.”
He added that the Trump White House and future administrations would be better served by a system the U.S. Supreme Court utilizes: A government-funded public information officer who takes care of press identification and access to the hearing room.
“Now the law is very clear,” Fein said. “If the White House wanted to have no press briefings at all, they could just shut the whole thing down and say, ‘All right, you don’t have any access here. We don’t do press briefing, you’re out.’”
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