White House correspondent for Playboy Brian Karem had his attorney write a letter to White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham after he was not given access to one of Trump’s COVID press conferences. The letter from Karem’s attorney, Theodore Boutrous Jr., began:
The mainstream media will be the first to chastise President Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic claiming he could have done more, sooner. Ironically, yet unsurprisingly, it is the same media that will complain about the very safety measures they deem necessary, when and only when, it is inconvenient for them. Thankfully in one particular case, the Justice Department stepped in.
We write to demand that you allow hard-pass holder Brian Karem, Playboy’s White House correspondent, to attend today’s and future White House press conferences and briefings. Mr. Karem earlier this afternoon emailed you to request permission to attend today’s press briefing but has yet to receive any response.
Sounds like Mr. Karem has a self-inflated ego as to the importance of his presence. What must have come as a surprise, Karem and his attorney received a response from the Justice Department itself, siding with Grisham and the administration. Karem’s letter also threatened that the White House was violating first amendment rights. As their defense, they cited a Supreme Court case from 1988, City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Pub. CO., which they claim concluded government officials “cannot retain ‘unbridled discretion’ to pick and choose which journalists get access to the White House press facilities and which do not” because it imposes a “major First Amendment risk.”
Nice try. The Justice Department’s response letter was a work of art. Ashley A. Cheung, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice responded, “In your letter, you allege that the White House Press Secretary has engaged in content – and viewpoint – based discrimination by limiting access to press briefings during the COVID-19 epidemic to Mr. Karem…Your letter is both factually and legally mistaken.”
Cheung’s letter continues and lays down the gauntlet:
Based on our understanding from the White House Press Office, although the Press Briefing Room is White House property, a practice has developed under which the White House Correspondents’ Association (‘WHCA’) is permitted to determine seating in the Press Briefing Room. The recent social-distancing rotation put in place to account for the current COVID-19 epidemic was adopted solely by the WHCA, not by the Press Secretary, and was not the subject of an agreement between the WHCA and the White House. Nor does the Press Secretary or any other member of the White House staff enforce these rules- they are enforced solely by the WHCA. To the extent Mr. Karem has been excluded from the seating rotations, he should direct his complaints to the WHCA, not to the Press Secretary, who has merely acquiesced in this practice.