Trump administration suspends press pass for journalist who sparred with far-right activist

White House reporter warns suspension is an 'attempt to stifle the free press'

Michael Brice-Saddler
Saturday 03 August 2019 14:54
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Sebastian Gorka clashes with White House reporter Brian Karem: 'You're threatening me in the rose garden'

Brian Karem, the chief White House correspondent for Playboy magazine, has said his press pass is being suspended for 30 days in what he called an "anti-first amendment move".

The temporary ban will begin on Monday, Mr Karem said. In an interview on Friday, he said the White House told him the suspension was related to his actions in the Rose Garden nearly a month ago, where he infamously sparred with former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka.

The White House wrote Mr Karem "failed to abide by basic norms of decorum and order" on 11 July, he said. The letter further stated he was "rude" to Mr Gorka, "a guest of the president".

But Mr Karem told The Post he thought the move was retaliation for his tough questioning of Donald Trump. He and his layer plan to appeal the suspension on Monday.

"They're claiming [the reason is] something that happened 21 days ago. I'm there every day. If this was an issue, it should've been brought to my attention long before now." Mr Karem said.

"I know what they say the issue is, but that's not the real issue, or they could've talked to me at any point in time prior to now. As a matter of record, they never spoke to me once about it."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Friday night.

Mr Karem, who is also a CNN contributor, has frequently criticised the administration and served as a foil during White House press scrums.

He achieved notoriety on 11 July when he engaged in a boisterous verbal altercation with Salem Radio Network host Sebastian Gorka at the "Social Media Summit" - an exchange that was recounted the next day by The Post's media critic Eric Wemple:

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 memorialised on video, Karem then says, "No, I'm just standing around. This is a group of people that are eager for demonic possession."

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--!"

Mr Karem told The Post he felt the suspension was a "silly" attempt to punish him and was not directly related to the exchange. He noted the White House told him about the suspension on Friday afternoon, hours after Mr Trump fielded several of his questions.

"This White House once again is arbitrarily enforcing rules with members of the press who take them to task by asking tough questions, that's what this all about," he said. "It's an attempt to stifle the free press, it shouldn't stand, and it won't."

Late on Friday, Playboy called Mr Karem's suspension "incredibly concerning".

In November, the White House revoked CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass after a heated exchange with Mr Trump. The network sued Mr Trump and other White House members, and a judge restored Mr Acosta's press credentials about a week later.

In May, the White House revoked press passes for a number of journalists unless they were granted an "exception".

Mr Karem alleged he scheduled meetings with White House officials three times since the summit, all of which were cancelled. He wanted to know why he was treated rudely that day, he said.

"The President of the United States is responsible to answer our questions, and he doesn't want to answer tough questions, and neither does anyone in this administration," Mr Karem said. "I am going to continue to ask questions and continue to do my job."

The Washington Post

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