Journalist Simon Ateba has filed a federal lawsuit against White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and the Secret Service, accusing them of unconstitutionally yanking his press badge after a series of press briefing disruptions.
Mr. Ateba, a reporter for Today News Africa, says in the lawsuit that the White House’s new rules for granting a press badge violate the First and Fifth amendments of the Constitution.
The lawsuit also claims the White House changed the rules for granting press badges specifically to stop Mr. Ateba from attending daily press briefings.
“[T]he White House has made clear it does not intend to treat Mr. Ateba like his colleagues. Quite the opposite: the White House Press Office recently revised its credentialing criteria for a media ‘hard pass’ this past May in a brazen attempt to exclude Mr. Ateba from the White House briefing room,” the lawsuit says.
In May the White House unveiled new rules for press badges, known as hard passes. It marked the first time in history the White House spelled out requirements for a hard pass and potential offenses that could result in a press badge being revoked.
Mr. Ateba said his press pass expired July 31 and has not been renewed. Under the new rules, 442 reporters no longer have press credentials, meaning they won’t be able to attend press briefings or the White House campus unless they obtain a temporary day pass.
That slashed the number of hard pass holders from 1,417 to 975 before the July 31 deadline, according to Politico’s West Wing Playbook. However, it is believed most of those who lost their press credentials did so because they no longer cover the White House and did not reapply.
The new rules were adopted just weeks after a March 20 briefing in which Mr. Ateba accused Ms. Jean-Pierre of “making a mockery of the First Amendment” by entering the briefing room with the cast of the Apple TV+ sitcom “Ted Lasso.”
During a June 26 briefing, Ms. Jean-PIerre threatened to end the briefing before taking a question because Mr. Ateba interrupted her.
Mr. Ateba in his lawsuit and in media appearances insists he’s left with no choice but to shout his questions and interrupt other reporters because Ms. Jean-Pierre has gone more than nine months without allowing him to ask her a question. His lawsuit says the changes to the hard pass criteria are in direct response to his briefing room disruptions.
“Defendants violated Mr. Ateba’s First Amendment rights by changing the criteria for hard pass credentials to intentionally prevent Mr. Ateba from obtaining hard pass access,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants did so by adopting credentialing criteria specifically designed to exclude Mr. Ateba from eligibility. Such discrimination amounts to a content-based regulation and viewpoint discrimination against Mr. Ateba in violation of the First Amendment.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During a press gaggle aboard Air Force One last week, Ms. Jean-Pierre defended the new rules for press credentials when pressed on the issue by The Washington Times.
“So, unfortunately, in the absence of guidelines — hard passes had been issued to people who were not using them. And so, creating an unwieldy system and unnecessary risk,” she said.
“We think this demonstrates that we’ve led a thoughtful and thorough process that preserves robust media access to a campus for everyone who needs it, whether it would be a hard pass or a day pass,” she said.