WHCA Threatens Reporter Who Interrupted Psaki Briefing With Possible Expulsion in Scathing Email
A reporter who interrupted Friday’s White House press briefing has been threatened with suspension or expulsion from the White House Correspondents Association were he to do the same again.
During Jen Psaki’s last press briefing as White House press secretary, Simon Ateba of Today News Africa twice interrupted and called on Psaki to call on the reporters in the back rows. He interrupted the Associated Press’ Zeke Miller and ABC News’ Mary Bruce.
In an email to Ateba on Monday, obtained by Mediaite, White House Correspondents Association President and CBS News Radio White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy chided him for the interruptions.
“Your disruptive behavior at last Friday’s briefing interrupted your colleagues and reflected poorly on the press corps,” he said. “There is no right of any reporter to be called on by any official. Preventing your colleagues from asking their questions is no way to seek relief.”
Portnoy warned that Ateba would be suspended or expelled were he to repeat his behavior from Friday.
“We note that you have been granted status as an Associate Member of our organization. With that comes a responsibility to act in a collegial manner with your fellow WHCA members,” he said. “If you again demonstrate disrespect for your colleagues in the manner you did last Friday, the WHCA Board will act on behalf of the collective. I am pasting Article X of our bylaws below for your reference.”
Article X of the WHCA bylaws states:
The Executive Board shall have power to suspend or expel any member of this Association for due cause, as may be determined in the judgment of the Executive Board, provided that written notice of the consideration of such action, together with a statement of alleged causes, shall be given the member concerned thirty (30) days prior to the meeting of the Executive Board and further provided that a hearing shall be granted such member, if the member shall so desire; and further provided that the temporary suspension of a member may be ordered by a majority vote of all members of the Executive Board, but that expulsion shall not be ordered except upon the approval of two-thirds of the full Executive Board; and provided further that any member so expelled by the Executive Board shall have the right to appeal to the full body of membership at the next succeeding Annual Meeting of the Association, in which case a majority vote of regular members present and voting shall be recognized as the final decision of the Association.
In a statement to Mediaite, Ateba said he received the email “with a heavy heart.”
“I received the email from WHCA’s President Steven Portnoy with a heavy heart. I am the victim here and I am being treated so unfairly by WHCA. It is sad and it is heartbreaking,” he said. “America is the greatest country in the world and no country comes even close. Here in the United States, press freedom is respected, or so I thought, or so I was made to believe.”
Ateba, who is Black, said his rationale for interrupting was due to being discriminated against “due to his origins, being an African covering the White House and focusing on U.S.-Africa ties and interactions for Today News Africa” and since he questioned the White House about the Biden administration’s African travel bans in November. In light of this, Ateba made numerous appearances on Fox News and called out the administration for the bans.
However, since then, Ateba has been called on by the White House. In March, he asked White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield if the administration had any response to actor Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. In April, he asked Psaki whether President Joe Biden blames her for his low approval ratings.
Ateba told Mediaite that he wasn’t called on as much as Bedingfield and Psaki “pointed in my direction, probably calling on others and I just took the question.”
Ateba called for the WHCA to reform.
“It baffles me that I have to be the one to say that doing press briefings with only people in the first and second rows is extremely discriminatory and should stop,” he said. “WHCA needs to be reformed.”
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