Sebastian Gorka, a conservative radio host and former White House official, argues with Playboy magazine's Brian Karem outside the White House on Thursday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Media critic

A loud mouth helped White House correspondent Brian Karem secure his position as a paid CNN contributor. In June 2017, Karem lashed out at then-deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders over her criticism of the media. “Come on! You’re inflaming everybody right here right now with those words!” said Karem, who did a cable TV tour following his out-of-turn blast at Sanders.

Soon enough, this happened:

The loud mouth was in action on Thursday afternoon, to less impressive effect.

The setting was an unorthodox one. President Trump had given some remarks in the White House Rose Garden about the controversy surrounding the administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. On hand for the proceedings were a number of Trump’s biggest Internet cheerleaders, who had earlier attended a social media summit at the White House. It was a strange pairing, as the New York Times pointed out. Combustible, too: A platoon of mainstream media reps were just steps away from the pro-Trump folks.

The hubbub proved too much for Karem’s powers of resistance. With so many busybodies in one place, there was a great deal of footage to document the unpleasant conversations. And the putdowns.

As Karem tells the Erik Wemple Blog, he had appealed to the president to stick around and answer some questions after his census remarks had concluded. Trump didn’t answer the call. Karem, a correspondent for Playboy magazine, claims that some folks in the “middle row” of the assemblage made some snide remarks. “They said stuff like, ‘He’s already talked to the real media’ and ‘Don’t be sad’ and there were a couple of others," he recalls. As memorialized on video, Karem then says, “No, I’m just standing around. This is a group of people that are eager for demonic possession."

Chuckles arose.

The demonic reference was a joke inspired by the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, says Karem. Over the course of the day, says Karem, some of the Trump supporters looked at the assembled members of the media as though they were the devil. “So I kind of flipped the script and they got it. They laughed,” he says.

Then comes the deus ex machina: Sebastian Gorka, Salem Radio Network host, former White House official and frequent user of the term “nothingburger.” After Karem’s “demonic” comment, Gorka shouts, "And you’re a journalist, right?” Karem replies, “Come on over here and talk to me, brother. We can go outside and have a long conversation.”

Across the green expanse of the Rose Garden, Gorka trudges. After he’s established a short and manly distance from Karem, he screams, "You’re a punk! You’re not a journalist! You’re a punk!”

His point made, Gorka marches off. Karem, however, shows that he’s fine doing some stooping of his own, though not to Gorka’s level. “Go home! Go home!" shouts Karem. “Hey, Gorka, get a job!” Someone yelled to Karem, “For the record, he’d kick your punk a--!"

Over a span of just a few minutes, Karem also jawed with pro-Trump personality Joy Villa, who’d denounced “fake news." Karem quizzed Villa about her use of copy editors.

Asked about Gorka’s show of bluster, Karem doesn’t know what triggered it. “Someone said they saw him make a beeline to me,” says Karem. “He came over and started calling me a punk, and what am I going to say to to that? I get called worse if I leave the toilet seat up.”

There are no equivalencies here: Gorka, in a typical posture, went out of his way to menace a member of the White House media. Karem, also in a typical posture, couldn’t keep his mouth shut and came off more as a fellow looking to settle scores than report the news. He disputed that characterization: “I don’t even know who they are,” he says. “I don’t have any scores to settle with them.”

If the scene appeared to be the result of boiled-over frustration, Karem confirms as much. “That day was engineered by the president to stress out those who cover him and to demean them,” says Karem. “And that wasn’t to say that those people who were there in social media were there to do that. That’s what the president wanted to do, elevate them and demean us,” says Karem, who argues that he’s there merely to get his questions answered.

The video tells a slightly different story; this is a fellow who wants to mix it up with Trump supporters. And CNN apparently agrees that he conducted himself better than . . . Sebastian Gorka. “Everyone is very supportive,” says Karem of his employers.

A consultation with White House historians isn’t necessary to determine whether the lovely greenery of the White House Rose Garden had ever before heard the line, “For the record, he’d kick your punk a--!”

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