New White House Rules: Reporters Can be Kicked Out If Not “Professional”

From a Washington Post story by Paul Farhi headlined “New White House rules: Reporters can be kicked out if not ‘professional.'”:

The White House has proposed new rules to determine who qualifies for access to its press briefing room on a regular basis — and who can be thrown out for behavior officials determine isn’t “professional.”

The rules represent the Biden White House’s attempt to establish a code of conduct to avoid the legal jeopardy that the Trump administration ran into when it banished CNN reporter Jim Acosta and journalist Brian Karem from the White House complex in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Courts later ruled that officials violated the journalists’ due-process rights because they had acted without a set of written standards.

More recently, press officials — and even some reporters — have bristled during press briefings at interruptions by journalist Simon Ateba, the White House correspondent for Today News Africa. Ateba has gained attention by shouting questions out of turn at Biden press secretaries Jen Psaki and Karine Jean-Pierre, in violation of protocol, if not written rules.

During a briefing room photo op with “Ted Lasso” cast members in March, Ateba demanded Jean-Pierre take his question, over shouts of “Let it go!” and “Decorum please!” from his fellow journalists.

Ateba, in a tweet Friday, suggested the proposed new rules are aimed at him, though press officials say the changes have been under development for more than a year.

In a notice issued Friday, the White House proposed a very general behavioral standard for reporters who receive “hard” passes — the credentials that enable them to come and go at will.

“The White House expects that all hard pass holders will act in a professional manner while on White House grounds by respecting their colleagues, White House employees, and guests; observing stated restrictions on access to areas of the White House or credentialed events; and not impeding events or briefings on campus,” the notice said.

Violations, it said, would be met with a written warning; repeat offenders would be suspended or banned.

Some reporters and others suggest that the language is so broad that it hands President Biden and future presidents sweeping powers to act against a reporter, and that it wouldn’t hold up if contested in court.

“It’s good to hear that the White House is looking to establish some objective standards governing White House press passes,” said Ted Boutrous, the lawyer who successfully defended Acosta and Karem. But the proposed rules, he added, “are unduly vague.” The D.C. Circuit Court, in the Karem case, ruled that the White House may not rely on “unarticulated standards of professionalism” to remove reporters.

“We fought against the arbitrary suspensions of press passes by the prior administration, which were similarly based on vague standards of conduct that can all too easily be misused to attack and punish aggressive journalism or unpopular viewpoints and shield the White House from rigorous journalistic scrutiny,” he said.

Karem, who writes for, acknowledged that some standards are necessary, but “if they’re trying to get rid of a reporter because they don’t like the question or because they think yelling out a question is rude, I’d just refer them to the Acosta and Karem cases. They will lose.”

The White House says its goal is not to thwart adversarial journalism but to manage security risks. Press officials have expressed concern, for example, about reporters entering restricted events at the White House without prior authorization or wandering onto restricted parts of the grounds.

The new rules also set criteria for obtaining a hard pass — a set of standards that effectively establishes who, according to the White House, qualifies as a journalist worthy of routine access.

Among other things, hard-pass holders must be employed full time by an organization principally concerned with news dissemination; must reside in the greater Washington, D.C., area; must have gone to the White House for work at least once during the prior six months; and must hold press credentials for either the Supreme Court, Senate or House.

Current passes will expire July 31, and holders have to reapply for a one-year credential.

White House officials say their aim is to tighten up the number of unused hard passes; they estimate that 40 percent of all hard-pass holders haven’t used their passes in the past 90 days, potentially creating another security risk. An official declined to say how many passes are in circulation.

The White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents beat reporters, has taken an officially noncommittal stance on the new rules.

But White House reporters who have closely monitored the rules say they could discriminate against freelancers or journalists who don’t hold credentials for Congress or the Supreme Court.

“There have always been hobbyists and frauds covering [the White House] beat,” said one veteran White House journalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. But the new rules would still allow them to enter the White House on a day pass. “They’re trying to put Pandora back in the box.”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post’s media reporter. He started at The Post in 1988 and has been a financial reporter, a political reporter and a Style reporter.

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