Black and LGBT reporters respond after being left off White House Christmas party guest list for first time in years

At least one news outlet is boycotting the event entirely

Emily Shugerman
New York
Thursday 30 November 2017 17:02
Journalist April Ryan accepts the WMC She Persisted Award onstage at the Women's Media Center 2017 Women's Media Awards
Journalist April Ryan accepts the WMC She Persisted Award onstage at the Women's Media Center 2017 Women's Media Awards

It was Thanksgiving day when Chris Johnson, the chief political and White House reporter for the Washington Blade, learned he hadn’t been invited to the annual White House holiday party for the press.

Mr Johnson, a reporter for the nation’s oldest LGBTQ paper, had attended every such party for the last seven years. He assumed this year’s invitation hadn’t gone out yet, until he heard other reporters discussing them over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“My first reaction was I assumed it must have been an oversight,” Mr Johnson told The Independent.

He emailed the White House to enquire about his invitation, but was bounced between spokespeople. He never received an invitation, and never got an explanation as to why.

Mr Johnson is one of at least two long-time White House correspondents who were not invited to this year’s event – a casual, off-the-record gathering for members of the administration and the press.

The other is April D Ryan, the White House correspondent and DC bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. She has been invited to the party for the last 20 years.

Melania Trump receives White House Christmas tree

“I don’t think I was overlooked,” Ms Ryan told the Washington Post of this year's party. “I think they don’t like me. For whatever reason, they have disdain for me.”

Mr Johnson, too, suspects the slight may have been purposeful.

“It is consistent with the White House press secretary not calling on me during the on-camera press briefings,” he said, noting that he had been called on just twice in the last six months.

He believes that the issue over the invite is “just kind of consistent with the policy of the administration to exclude LGBTQ people".

Ms Ryan, who is black, did not claim she was passed over because of her identity. But she has previously claimed that reporters of colour are treated like “the opposition” in the Trump White House.

"Now if you question [the administration], you're considered someone from the opposing party, versus just [a journalist] trying to get the facts," she told CNN’s Don Lemon. "And God forbid, you are someone of a different race, I was speaking of myself, you're considered an opposition.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Donald Trump says it's 'frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants'

Reporters from the Washington Post, New York Times, and Politico have all received invitations to this year’s party. Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha told The Independent that the paper had received fewer invitations this year than last, but said the number was “consistent with previous administrations prior to Obama”.

Representatives from the Washington Blade and American Urban Radio Networks told The Independent that no one from their organisations had been invited.

CNN, meanwhile, has decided to boycott the event entirely. In a statement on Tuesday, a CNN spokesperson said it would be inappropriate for the network’s reporters to attend, “in light of the President’s continued attacks on freedom of the press and CNN”.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded by tweeting: “Christmas comes early! Finally, good news from @CNN.”

This year’s party will be held on a weekday, and will start earlier than past events. The first couple will not pose for pictures with reporters, as previous administrations have done. The administration will, however, stick to one tradition: keeping the event off the record.

“As with Christmas parties in past administrations, this is off the record,” Melania Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham told Politico. “This is not meant to be a news event, rather, it is an opportunity for the media and their guests to enjoy a reception at the White House this Christmas season.”

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