“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,” reads the Wednesday statement from the WHCA board, which noted that the move was prompted by safety concerns.
No matter: Rion tweeted from the briefing room on Thursday afternoon:
As explained here, the WHCA, a nonprofit organization that negotiates journalistic access to the White House, doesn’t handle credentialing of reporters to enter White House facilities. That’s the work of the White House staff and the Secret Service. It does, however, serve an administrative function in coordinating rotations among media outlets for attendance at White House events, especially when they take place in tight spaces in which the entire Washington press corps can’t possibly fit. The White House briefing room, with its 49 seats and narrow aisles, is one such space, especially now that social distancing has forced the White House and the WHCA to allow only 14 correspondents to spread out over the available seats.
OANN had been included in those rotations ever since the WHCA implemented its coronavirus seating restrictions. Rion shares her rotation seat with nine other media outlets, though she has attended the last three briefings — all of them out of turn, according to sources. Questioned about her appearances, Rion has said that she attends at the invitation of White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, a setup confirmed by OANN President Charles Herring. Rion herself addressed the issue on OANN’s air on Thursday, referring to Grisham, “She invited me again to attend the briefing today as her guest, standing in the back,” said Rion.
Grisham hasn’t responded to inquiries from the Erik Wemple Blog on this matter.
As for Rion’s claim that she is properly distanced from others in the briefing room: The Erik Wemple Blog is in no position to assess distances while watching on C-SPAN. It is clear, however, that this whole notion is an expression of selfishness. There are dozens of reporters who would like to be in that briefing room but cannot attend because of the restricted rotation scheme. If every one of them crowded into the space, it would turn the briefing room into one of D.C.'s most dangerous locations for potential spread the coronavirus.
The clash, moreover, raises the question of just who is Rion: Is she a journalist or an unofficial staffer of the White House? The WHCA, which is headed by ABC News’s Jonathan Karl, raised just that issue in a statement before the briefing: “In order to comply with the social distancing guidelines, and to take steps to ensure the health and safety of the press corps and White House staff, there is no room for reporters who do not have an assigned seat today, or on any given day, to be standing in the briefing room. If somebody is to be a guest of the White House, they should be sitting in the seats to the side which are set aside for White House staff.”
The suggestion that Rion find a perch in the staffing area makes sense considering her questions and the coverage of OANN. Rion has made headlines with her down-feathered questions to the president, such as: “Is it alarming that major media players, just to oppose you, are consistently siding with foreign state propaganda, Islamic radicals, and Latin gangs and cartels? And they work right here at the White House with direct access to you and your team?”
Whoa. If that sounds like propaganda, have a look at a letter that Rion sent to a detractor back in March crediting “President Trump’s Herculean crisis management effort.” And here we thought Fox News’s Sean Hannity was a Trump flunky. She acts and sounds like a White House employee, so why wouldn’t she sit alongside White House employees?
There’ll be more to this story. The WHCA has just watched as the White House essentially overruled the seating scheme that Grisham herself endorsed as social distancing took hold in mid-March. At the same time, the WHCA has declared that Rion’s rogue position in the briefing room is a matter of health and safety. So how will it proceed? As of posting time, that wasn’t clear.
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