One America News, the upstart right-wing cable channel that was granted special status by the Trump White House, is clashing again with its mainstream colleagues on the presidential beat.
Last year, the channel became the first news outlet in history to have its correspondents banned from the briefing room by the organization that represents White House reporters. The board of the White House Correspondents’ Association voted to boot OAN after its reporters repeatedly attended the briefings in violation of social distancing protocols that have severely limited the number of people who can be in the cramped room at once.
Now the San Diego-based network is locked in a turf battle with other TV networks over a spot just outside the briefing room – a patch off the North Lawn known as Pebble Beach. The networks have for many years used the area as the staging ground for their makeshift TV studios, positioning their correspondents in front of cameras and lights with the White House as a backdrop.
OAN won approval from then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last year to set up its own studio on the site. It was one of several favors granted to OAN by President Donald Trump and his staff, following its favorable coverage of him.
But OAN’s setup, which includes a large tent and full array of cameras and transmission equipment, has drawn complaints from its network neighbors, who say it encroaches on their operations and crowds out smaller networks that seek to use the space.
The standoff over TV standups has yet to be resolved. A committee consisting of five leading networks – ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Fox – is mulling its options, according to people knowledgeable about the dispute. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for the group.
The brewing confrontation is the second one involving OAN and the White House press corps. Although OAN has carved out a niche among Trump supporters for its conspiratorial reporting about the Biden family’s alleged activities in Ukraine and for its support of Trump’s bogus claims about the 2020 election, the disputes have little to do with politics or point of view and more to do with procedure, according to members of the correspondents’ association.
The association, which has for years assigned the seats in the briefing room and the workspaces behind it, voted to strip OAN’s correspondents of their seat and workspace last year after the network’s lead White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, repeatedly violated covid-related restrictions.
Rion stood in the rear of the briefing room and asked questions of Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, in defiance of the correspondents’ self-governed restrictions on access. The briefing room has 49 seats, and normally accommodates dozens more who stand in the aisles, but the correspondents’ association began limiting seating to just 14 reporters in March to keep people safely spaced. News organizations thereafter observed a rotation, which gave each a seat in the room about once every 10 days.
OAN showed up anyway, saying it was invited by Trump. Its reporters were joined in the back of the room last summer by correspondents from two other Trump-friendly outlets, the Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit, both of which said they received clearance from the president’s staff. Trump called on all three outlets to ask questions during his televised news conferences.
The White House Correspondents’ Association board voted to ban OAN from the room last year and bar it from using the small workspace it shared with another news organization. Beyond a brief mention in the board meeting minutes, it did not publicize its decision at the time, said one member, to avoid “turning OAN into a martyr.”
The ban had nothing to do with OAN’s news reporting, said Zeke Miller, an Associated Press reporter who serves as the organization’s president. “The association took action [against OAN] to ensure the health and safety of the people in the briefing room,” he said.
However, OAN has irritated other news organizations over the years, starting in 2018 when it filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Trump and the White House supporting its decision to ban CNN reporter Jim Acosta from the grounds. Trump ordered the removal of Acosta’s White House press pass after a contentious news conference; a court later sided with CNN, ordering the White House to restore Acosta’s access.
For her part, Rion last summer started a rival organization to the WHCA, the National White House Correspondents’ Association. She said the group aimed to share control of the White House briefing room “and all other delegated press functions” with the WHCA.
Neither Rion nor OAN executive Charles Herring responded to repeated requests for comment.
Miller said the ban on OAN’s access isn’t permanent; the network can reapply for a seat and will be given due consideration, he said, although it will likely be a number of months before pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.