OAN flap demonstrates some flaming White House press corps hypocrisy
The press has been publishing negative stories about One America News correspondent Chanel Rion for quite some time now. She's young, she's conservative, she was homeschooled, she's bright, she's not perfect (any more than they are -- she occasionally gets stories wrong or follows the wrong rabbit holes) and she certainly isn't part of their 'in' crowd. A CNN denizen calls this competitor network "a fringe outlet." Another CNN denizen claims that Rion promotes 'conspiracy theories' which sounds kind of funny coming from the network that spent years promoting the Russia collusion conspiracy. Worst of all, she's liked by President Trump.
So now they've finally put a stop to her, piously citing coronavirus public health concerns.
On Wednesday the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) issued a statement saying, in part: “We are writing to inform you that the WHCA Board has voted this evening to remove a news outlet from the rotation for a seat in the briefing room. We did this because a reporter for this outlet twice attended press briefings in contravention of this policy.”
“This policy” refers to steps taken by the association to ensure social distancing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the venue where Trump and his colleagues hold their daily coronavirus news conferences.
Though the correspondents’ association announcement didn’t specify the ousted organization, it is in fact OANN. The association, whose president is Jonathan Karl of ABC News, made its decision based on the allegedly unauthorized presence of Rion in the briefing room twice this week, in violation of the social-distancing rules that the WHCA instituted to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
“We do not take this action lightly. This is a matter of public safety,” the association’s memo continued.
Which sounds a little disingenuous, given that the WaPo video showing Rion in the briefing room in the back, in this same story, clearly has her more than six feet away from other reporters. (Update: The video I saw doesn't seem to be there anymore and it may have been replaced with an unrelated hairstyling video.)
Something says this expulsion might not be about the coronavirus.
At the White House, the press reports as a group, and the White House Correspondents Association issues rotation spots, yet they are not all doing the same thing. Some are TV, some are radio, some are print, some are wire and Internet. Some might be really trying to cover the news impartially and keep their own politics out of it. Some have an undeclared slant. Some honestly declare their slant. OAN seems to be in the last category, same as Buzzfeed on the left, and other outlets. They all say they're there to tell the truth, and who gets truth moves on a continuum, actually based on what audiences respond to. Bottom line, all of it amounts to valid free speech.
But the White House Press Corps seems to be acting as a cartel, actually, seeking to enforce a common groupthink in coverage or non-coverage.
Start with this question: Why would the White House invite Rion in to cover the press conferences in the first place?
The answer seems pretty obvious:
Some of the networks actually vowed to not cover the briefings Trump was putting on. They hated that those direct addresses of Trump's to the general public, comforting them at the time of a pandemic, and driving his poll numbers higher. Yet at the same time, they apparently held places in the WHCA press rotation, taking up seat space for the very briefings they said they wanted to keep out of the news.
Here's Deadline's April 1 piece:
The networks found it off-topic, particularly as Trump began to talk about progress of the construction of a wall along the southern border, a signature campaign promise.
CNN’s John King expressed his annoyance.
“When you are an incumbent president, to bring that into a briefing in the middle of a pandemic, the day after the incredibly sobering news the administration rightfully delivered to the American people yesterday, is shameless and it’s political,” he said on-air. “The president has other opportunities to do this. There are 24 hours in a day. He has all the buildings of the government still at his disposal.”
Which is hypocritical right on its surface beause the press itself asks off-topic questions at dedicated briefings all the time. I've seen this firsthand myself as a correspondent in those White House pools. Several years ago, I accompanied then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a congressional delegation to Colombia to write about free trade and at one point, the reporters were to agree on pitching three questions. One of the reporters insisted on wasting one of those questions on a Middle East issue to finish up some previous story she was on and I objected so strenously (given that I had flown from Los Angeles to Washington to Colombia for this) that I know I made myself unpopular. The compromise we reached was to cheat on that three-question rule and jam in an extra question from the last reporter, something I give the Agence France-Press correspondent credit to for peacemaking.
But more deeply, the declaration that the briefings not be covered because of "propaganda" and off-topic remarks from the president (normal people would skip covering the off-topic remarks and carry on) is problematic itself. That's especially for press organizations supposedly devoted to casting daylight to the public. If they don't want to cover the news, they need to give their seats to someone else who wants to. They can't be placeholders to ensure news suppression, and they sure as heck don't own those seats.
Sure, young Rion seems probably too close to White House officials, and maybe too eager to repeat heir talking points. But to hear such complaints from the people who by email coordinated with the Obama administration White House - ever heard of JournoList, run by then-Washington Post columist Ezra Klein - is kind of hypocritical, too
Here's a second problem: According to this March 31 piece by the Washington Post, some of them weren't even showing up to the briefings at all. They didn't want to go, they didn't want to write about it, and that is their prerogative, but it's weird stuff for them to somehow not want anyone else to cover the briefings, either, as is the case with OAN. Which incidentally has proven a ratings bonanza for them.
With that kind of thing going on, why wouldn't the White House want to create some kind of space for someone who really wanted to cover Trump's press briefings? Based on the childish behavior seen, and the fact that the public really does want to see the press briefings covered, the WHCA is effectively acting as a cartel, not just trying to halt coverage of the news, but objecting to any competitor who does.
As long as they are going to either threaten to not cover, or actually not cover the news, the White House has a perfect right to invite young Chanel Rion into the briefings.
Image credit: YouTube screen shot, OAN