August 20, 2019

US – White House should immediately restore Brian Karem’s press pass

Brendan Smialowski / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is deeply concerned at the White House’s recent decision to suspend correspondent Brian Karem’s press pass. This is the second time that a journalist’s press pass was suspended by the Trump administration in clear violation of the First Amendment.

The White House finalized its decision on August 16 to suspend White House correspondent Brian Karem’s press pass for 30 days, with Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham citing the reporter’s conduct during an argument with former White House aide Sebastian Gorka at a July 11 White House event. In the letter Grisham sent on August 2 notifying Karem of the decision, she wrote that he “failed to abide” by a “widely shared understanding” of how members of the press should behave at White House events, while acknowledging that there is no explicit set of rules governing such behavior. 



In an August 6 article published by Playboy, Karem wrote that he believes his press pass was removed as a retaliatory measure against him for “ask[ing] hard questions” over the last several weeks.The Playboy reporter and CNN analyst announced he plans to sue the White House over this decision, and his attorney Ted Boutrous published a statement saying the suspension violates Karem’s First Amendment rights and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The White House Correspondents’ Association also published a statement expressing its concern with the decision.



“The suspension of Brian Karem’s press pass is yet another example of a thin-skinned White House that abuses power to punish journalists it dislikes,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “This action has no place in a democratic country with a free press. It demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the watchdog function of the media over government and it wrongly attempts to regulate the professional conduct of journalists who assert themselves on behalf of the American people to access and understand the truth. The White House should immediately reverse this decision.”



In November 2018, the White House suspended CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass based on false allegations that the reporter “placed his hands on” a White House aide working at a press conference, although C-SPAN’s live coverage of the event directly contradicted this. Days later, CNN filed a lawsuit—led by Boutrous, the same lawyer now representing Karem—against the White House, arguing the Trump administration violated Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. The White House fully restored Acosta’s press pass within a week, though it introduced a set of guidelines governing questions at press events that, if not followed, could lead to future revocations moving forward. The White House hasn’t suspended or revoked any reporter’s press pass yet for working outside these guidelines.



The United States ranks 48th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index



For the latest updates, follow RSF on twitter @RSF_en.