The White House is upping the stakes in its feud with an assertive reporter, issuing a formal warning on Tuesday that risks a reporter’s entry pass to White House grounds if they continue to disrupt press briefings.
In an unprecedented move for President Biden’s press office, the warning comes on the heels of several months of back-and-forth between Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Cameroonian journalist Simon Ateba of the news website Today News Africa.
Ateba has repeatedly interrupted Jean-Pierre during briefings to demand recognition for himself to pose a question, a behavior that has repeatedly been admonished by the press secretary. Continued interruptions prevent other reporters from asking questions, Jean-Pierre has argued.
Thus, the White House issued an official warning to Ateba in an unsigned letter, demanding that he “stop by White House employees” or his access to the White House with a press credential, known as a “hard pass,” may be suspended or revoked.
The press office noted that White House-recognized journalists may sometimes “raise their voices or shout questions” – but these interruptions usually stop once a reporter is called on for a question.
The letter cited six episodes dating back to the start of December in which Ateba has spoken out of turn, including twice interrupting a briefing in March. Furthermore, Ateba’s insistence for recognition in December prompted Jean-Pierre to end the briefing early, a move condemned by fellow journalists.
As a practical matter, reporters’ hard passes will expire at the end of the month and must be renewed under broad new rules announced by the White House. Unless Ateba complies with the criteria of a hard pass, including being a full-time employee of a news agency and residing in the greater D.C. area, he will likely be denied entry.
Ateba has went on social media to portray himself as a victim of “racism and discrimination” at the hands of the Biden administration and, in a tweet yesterday, branded the Washington Post’s article of the warning letter as a “hit piece meant to prevent me from renewing my hard pass.”
However, the White House Correspondents’ Association declined to renew the Ateba’s membership in January citing a lack of evidence that he’s employed by a news outlet and “repeated instances where your behavior violated the expectations for membership.”
It remains unclear what questions Ateba is seeking to ask the White House. He declined to comment when asked by The Washington Post last week. The White House press office also declined to comment.
For now, as the White House has made clear, Ateba has been issued a stern warning that could mean the end of his access to the White House grounds if he fails to adhere to the press’s expectations.
We strongly support the important role that members of the press play in covering the White… pic.twitter.com/7EbS9HDpIW
— Simon Ateba (@simonateba) July 11, 2023