CNN on Friday made sure its viewers knew not to inject bleach to protect themselves from covid-19. In multiple segments, the network’s hosts denounced President Trump’s unfathomably dumb remarks from Thursday evening about covid-19 treatments involving disinfectant and light. Host Anderson Cooper was unmerciful regarding the White House’s shifting explanations for those remarks: It first blamed the media for taking them out of context; Trump later explained that they were merely sarcastic comments aimed at reporters.

“It’s just sad to see the president of the United States, any of the president of the United States … just blatantly making up something,” said Cooper. “They hadn’t lined up their lies, they came up with a different lie.”

Though some folks might say that those words sound like a resistance media organization, they actually represent objective reporting. Footage from the briefing made clear that there was nothing sarcastic about the comments, nor did the media take them out of context. The president just couldn’t own his stupidity.

Later on Friday, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins received a strange request from a White House official, one that she subsequently detailed on Twitter:

A more detailed report came from Washington Blade Chief Political & White House Reporter Chris Johnson, who filed this pool report on the incident:

Earlier today before the briefing, a White House official instructed the print pooler to take CNN’s seat in the briefing room because the seating would be swapped for the briefing. Given the seating assignment is under the jurisdiction of the White House Correspondents’ Association, not the White House, pooler refused to move.
The White House official then informed the print pooler swapping wasn’t an option and the Secret Service was involved. Again, pooler refused to move, citing guidance from the WHCA. The briefing proceeded with both CNN and print pooler sitting in their respective assigned seats.

Secret Service, huh? Let’s pause for a moment on that one. The U.S. Secret Service protects top U.S. leaders as well as visiting foreign dignitaries, such as the pope. “Using advanced countermeasures, the Secret Service executes security operations that deter, minimize and decisively respond to identified threats and vulnerabilities," its website says.

Where does the assignment of seats in the White House briefing room fit into that scheme? It appears not to, according to Jonathan Karl, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA). In an email sent to Johnson on Friday evening, Karl wrote, “The Secret Service tells the WHCA they were not involved whatsoever in this effort by the WH to change seating assignments.”

A Secret Service representative emailed the Erik Wemple Blog this statement: “The U.S. Secret Service was not involved in this matter.”

So it seems that the White House was so intent on Collins’s positional demotion as to invoke the Secret Service for the purposes of intimidation. Collins and Johnson were wise to stand their ground.

As this blog has explained before, a complicated system of overlapping jurisdictions governs how reporters access White House events. The Secret Service and the White House issue the hard passes that allow correspondents access to the White House grounds. However, the WHCA — a century-old nonprofit with a board consisting of veteran White House journalists — coordinates seat assignments in the briefing room and pool rotations for other important reportorial opportunities. That very division of labor came under attack on Friday.

Again, that is. Earlier this spring, One America News Network’s (OANN) Chanel Rion appeared in the briefing room outside of the rotation that the WHCA had devised to ensure social distancing in the cramped area. As a result, OAN was booted from its WHCA-organized rotation and stripped of its workspace in the White House basement. Rion claimed she had come to the briefings at the invitation of then-White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked the White House who hatched the idea to suddenly attack Collins’s front-row perch in the briefing room. It’s not clear, though we do know this: It’s a petty, personal act that was hastily and mendaciously executed. What happened here was nothing short of an abject attempt to professionally humiliate a young, female journalist. Sure, Trump has targeted men plenty of times in the briefing room and elsewhere. But hear the words of CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash earlier this month: “As a woman who covered the White House, as a woman who covers politics and policy in Washington, we have to just say, the way he treats the female reporters is just different.”

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