White House, reporters push back on disruptive journalist at press briefing
A White House press briefing featuring the cast of “Ted Lasso” was briefly derailed on Monday after a correspondent and frequent disruptor repeatedly interjected, prompting pushback from the White House Correspondents Association and other reporters.
Simon Ateba, a correspondent for Today News Africa, began shouting out as press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stepped to the podium, joined by actors Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt and Toheeb Jimoh.
Ateba, who frequently speaks out of turn in the briefing room and has in the past clashed with Jean-Pierre, claimed he and others in the room were being “discriminated against” because of the questions they wanted to ask.
“It’s been seven months. You’ve not called on me. I’m saying that’s not right,” Ateba said.
“Welcome guys. Welcome to the press briefing room,” Jean-Pierre said to the “Ted Lasso” actors in attendance before Ateba again began voicing his complaints.
While Ateba has previously levied similar claims of discrimination and criticized Jean-Pierre during briefings, Monday’s outburst drew more rebuttal than usual from other reporters in the room who grew frustrated that Ateba was delaying and derailing the proceedings.
“Sorry to our guests. We apologize,” said Kelly O’Donnell, an NBC News correspondent and WHCA vice president.
When Ateba again interjected before national security spokesperson John Kirby took to the podium, multiple reporters pushed back.
“If you have grievances, you should bring them to her later…The press corps is tired of dealing with this,” said Jeff Mason, a Reuters correspondent and former WHCA president.
Brian Karem, a veteran White House reporter who periodically attends briefings, told Ateba to “mind your manners when you’re in here.”
“If you have a problem you bring it up afterwards, but you are impinging on everybody in here who is only trying to do their job,” he said.
Jean-Pierre in a response noted the history of the press briefing room that she said “should have decorum.”
“I understand that there’s going to be give and take. That’s the way the press briefing has gone for decades, before me and I will always, always respect that but what I will not, what I will not appreciate is disrespecting your colleagues and disrespecting guests who are here to talk, who were here to talk an incredibly important issue which is mental health,” she said. “And what has just occurred this last 10, 15 minutes is unacceptable.”
Associated Press correspondent Zeke Miller, also a former WHCA president, opened questioning of Jean-Pierre by apologizing for the incident earlier in the briefing.
“I just want to express our apologies from the press corps to the folks watching at home for the display you saw earlier. Our responsibility is to them,” Miller said.
After the briefing, WHCA president Tamara Keith in a memo to members lamented the “extreme breakdown of decorum” on Monday.
“What happened today created a hostile work environment for everyone in that room,” Keith wrote.
Monday was far from the first time Ateba had disrupted a press briefing.
Last May he was reprimanded after shouting over another reporter to complain about not being called on enough at former press secretary Jen Psaki’s final briefing. The WHCA warned Ateba of possible expulsion after that incident.
Last September he was called on at a briefing with Kirby and asked for the former Pentagon press secretary to clarify his role, claiming “everywhere I go, I have Black people telling me that the reason you’re at the White House is to undermine the first female Black secretary.”
He similarly shouted out questions when other reporters were called on during Dr. Anthony Fauci’s final briefing late last year, drawing a rebuke from Jean-Pierre.
In December, Jean-Pierre abruptly ended the briefing when, after calling on The Hill for a question, Ateba began shouting out complaints that he was not called on frequently and would not relent.
Ateba has previously appeared on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show to complain that he is being discriminated against. He is scheduled to appear on Carlson’s show Monday evening.
Updated 5:06 p.m.
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