Litigation /

White House Reporter Sues Press Secretary, Secret Service

The Complaint Argues Simon Ateba Has Been Treated With Contempt By Karine Jean-Pierre

Today News Africa’s chief White House correspondent Simon Ateba has filed a lawsuit against press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and the United States Secret Service.

Also included in Ateba’s lawsuit is White House Director of the United States Secret Service Kimberly Cheatle.

The lawsuit argues the Today News Africa reporter has been treated with contempt by the White House press secretary, arguing Ateba is prevented from engaging in communication with Jean-Pierre during press briefings. In response to Jean-Pierre’s alleged avoidance of Ateba, the reporter began asserting his questions to the press secretary while speaking over fellow reporters.

In response to Ateba’s behavior, the White House formally threatened to revoke Atebs’a hard pass in July. A hard pass grants journalists regular entry to the White House and typically takes several months to authorize.

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

“The White House’s refusal to communicate with Mr. Ateba significantly undermines his ability to properly inform his readers,” the suit continues, adding the Today News Africa reporter covers topics affecting millions of people around the world.

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

The suit further claims the White House has “made it clear” they do not intend to treat the Today News Africa reporter as equally as other colleagues. The suit further alleges that over 440 previously credentialed reporters have had their hard passes revoked following their revised credentialing in May.

“While other reporters were affected by the revisions, excluding Mr. Ateba was the primary objective because the White House no longer wanted to deal with him or his questions,” the lawsuit reads. “Targeted changes to hard-pass credentialing qualifications to exclude specific journalists is troubling by itself, but the new credentialing criteria the White House adopted also raise grave First Amendment concerns for reporters generally.”

“America is the greatest country in the world and no country comes even close. Here in the United States, press freedom is respected, or so I thought, or so I was made to believe,” Ateba told the Daily Caller following the WHCA’s threat to suspend or expel him in May. “I have sacrificed everything for journalism.”

He continued:

I have done no other job across various continents. I have been arrested, detained, accused of being a spy for Boko Haram while doing an investigative report on Nigerian refugees in Chad and Cameroon. I have been attacked by pirates on the Gulf of Guinea, kidnapped from a car in Lagos, dumped in the woods and left for dead. Am I not worth asking a question at least once a month? Am I not being in the room when President Biden receives President Kenyatta of Kenya?

He added: “Am I less? Is that what press freedom is?”

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