Reporter’s White House Press Pass Reinstated by Judge After Altercation

September 6, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
The White House Press Room. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A federal judge reinstated the White House press pass of Playboy magazine reporter Brian Karem Tuesday after it was taken away by the Trump administration’s press secretary.

Karem lost his press pass in July after a loud altercation in the Rose Garden with former Trump administration aide Sebastian Gorka. Onlookers filmed the dispute and posted it on the Internet, where it went viral.

Afterward, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham suspended Karem’s press pass for 30 days. She said Karem violated standards of “decorum” and “professionalism.”

Karem appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras’ ruling said Karem’s First Amendment right to free speech outweighed the White House interest in “maintaining order.”

“’White House events appear to vary greatly in character,” the ruling says. “Thus, without any contextual guideposts, ‘professionalism,’ standing alone, remains too murky to provide fair notice here. What is deemed ‘professional’ behavior in the context of a state dinner may be very different from what is considered ‘professional’ behavior during a performance by James Brown.”

The 24-page ruling added, “This event was also one where jocular insults had been flying from all directions. There is no indication in the record that other offenders were reprimanded, or even told to stop.”

During what the White House called a social media summit, Karem said in a voice heard by several persons, “This is a group of people who are eager for demonic possession.”

Gorka responded, “You’re not a journalist — you’re a punk!”

Other words exchanged during the dispute implied the possibility of a fistfight.

At one point, Karem told Gorka, “Hey, come on over here and talk to me, brother, or we can go outside and have a long conversation.”

After the judge’s ruling Tuesday, Grisham issued a statement saying, “We disagree with the decision of the District Court to issue an injunction that essentially gives free reign to members of the press to engage in unprofessional, disruptive conduct at the White House. Mr. Karem’s conduct, including threatening to escalate a verbal confrontation into a physical one to the point that a Secret Service agent intervened, clearly breached well-understood norms of professional conduct. The Press Secretary must have the ability to deter such unacceptable conduct.“

She also disagreed with the judge’s conclusion that the proper standards for the White House news media were unclear.

She said the White House made the standards clear last November after an incident in which CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta hung on to a microphone as a press aide tried to take it away.

Support for the judge’s ruling came from the White House Correspondents‘ Association. Jonathan Karl, its president, said the association “is gratified the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia acted to uphold the due process rights of one of our members.”

Karem wrote in a tweet, “God bless the Constitution, free speech, due process and [attorney Ted Boutrous]⁩ and his great legal team.“
The case is Karem v. Trump et al., case number 1:19-cv-02514, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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