African Journalist Simon Ateba Sues Karine, White House Secret Service For First Amendment Violation

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images/SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Nicole Silverio Media Reporter
Font Size:

Today News Africa White House correspondent Simon Ateba filed a lawsuit late Thursday against White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and the U.S. Secret Service for deactivating his hard pass.

Ateba has accused Jean-Pierre of violating his First Amendment right to freedom of the press and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause after hundreds of hard passes were revoked from White House journalists working for smaller, non-corporate outlets. These hard passes allow journalists to gain access to White House press events, including press conferences.

Ateba first received a hard pass in Feb. 2021 and had his questions and interview requests repeatedly ignored, according to the lawsuit. The White House informed reporters on May 5 that it was restricting who could receive a hard pass. He, along with over 440 reporters, officially lost their passes on Aug. 1.

“‘The press’ does not just include a small class of elite journalists, credentialed by one another. The First Amendment’s guarantees protect the public’s right to engage in constitutionally protected press activity,” the lawsuit’s introduction reads. “Indeed, the inclusion of the words ‘the press’ in the First Amendment does not confer upon [journalists] a title of nobility.”

The lawsuit claims that the White House’s revision of its hard pass criteria was a “brazen attempt” to banish Ateba from the briefing room. Ateba’s lawyers also argue that not having access to White House venues where press conferences are frequently held violates his right to the freedom of press.

The Center for American Liberty filed the lawsuit on Ateba’s behalf.

Ateba vowed to “keep fighting” and doing his job despite these new restrictions in a statement posted by the center, arguing that President Joe Biden has no right to “dictate who covers him.”

“I was simply doing my job for asking the right questions, for asking the tough questions,” Ateba said. “Without freedom of the press, there cannot be democracy. Without freedom of the press, there cannot be freedom. Without freedom of the press, there cannot be a free and fair election. And I will keep fighting, I will keep doing my job. No president, including President Joe Biden, should be allowed to dictate who covers him.”

“Today, President Joe Biden is in power,” Ateba told the Daily Caller in a Friday statement. “Tomorrow, it might be someone else. Regardless of who holds the office, no President should have the authority to decide who covers them. Today, the arbitrary new rules target me; tomorrow, they might target you. This isn’t about just one individual; it’s about a free press, the cornerstone of democracy. In a democracy, people have a right to know, and journalists have a duty to tell.”

Ateba has previously clashed with Jean-Pierre by shouting out questions after several months of not being called on. The lawsuit said the yelling is the only option Ateba has left. (RELATED: KJP Threatens To Abruptly End Briefing After Simon Ateba Interrupts Her) 

Notable incidents involved Ateba shouting at Jean-Pierre after she refused to call on Daily Caller White House correspondent Diana Glebova when she asked about the origins of COVID-19 during former White House senior medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci’s final briefing in November.

He also shouted during a March 20 briefing when the cast of “Ted Lasso” attended as guest speakers.

“While Mr. Ateba has garnered national attention for his approach, he simply wants to do his job,” the lawsuit reads. “To to this, he must be treated like any other correspondent—which includes having access to the White House and open dialogue with the White House Press Office.”

The lawsuit said Jean-Pierre allows for an “unpredictable and volatile atmosphere” which the suit said “breeds disorder” in the James J. Brady Press Briefing Room. The lawsuit accused Jean-Pierre and the Secret Service of violating the Administration Procedure Act by failing to provide a justification for revoking Ateba’s pass.

The suit also compared the White House’s treatment of Ateba to former CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who the former President Donald Trump Administration tried to suspend after he refused to give the microphone back to an intern. Both Acosta and Playboy White House correspondent Brian Karem also had his hard pass revoked by the Trump White House, and had a court reinstate their passes, according to the lawsuit.

Following the May announcement of new hard pass policy, Ateba received a letter from the White House on July 11 threatening to suspend or totally revoke his pass.

“Media outlets widely reported that the new hard pass requirements were targeted directly at Mr. Ateba,” the lawsuit reads. “His high-profile exchanges with the White House Press Secretary during briefings had garnered both international media attention, and a provoked the anger of the Biden Administration.”

Ateba applied for press credentials with the Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Daily Press Gallery on June 5, but received no response, according to the lawsuit. He also applied for credentials from the Supreme Court Office in early August and was denied.

He reapplied for a White House hard pass on Aug. 4, despite not meeting the July 31 renewal deadline, according to the lawsuit.

“But without a hard pass, Mr. Ateba is, and will continue to be, irreparably harmed. Defendants have infringed on his constitutional rights. And this infringement will persist absent intervention by this court,” the lawsuit reads.

The White House did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.