There’s a new battle brewing between the White House and a hard-nosed member of the media.
Brian Karem, a regular at the White House who writes for Playboy magazine, received a letter on Friday saying his “hard pass” will be suspended for 30 days starting Monday.
The letter from press secretary Stephanie Grisham cited his conduct at President Trump’s event with social media allies on July 11, when Karem had a heated exchange with pro-Trump radio host Sebastian Gorka.
Grisham intended to keep the letter private, according to a source, but Karem chose to make it public in a tweet on Friday.
“I can and will appeal this decision,” Karem wrote.
On Friday evening Playboy and Karem retained First Amendment attorney Ted Boutrous, who successfully represented CNN and Jim Acosta last November.
The White House revoked Acosta’s “hard pass,” a badge that speeds up entry to the White House complex, after Acosta questioned Trump at a post-midterms press conference.
The pass was revoked without any warning shortly before Acosta was due back at the White House for a live shot on CNN.
The network filed suit a few days later. A federal judge sided with the network and Acosta and issued a temporary restraining order, thereby forcing the White House to restore his press pass for 14 days.
The administration then backed down and restored Acosta’s access. But Trump said the White House would “create rules and regulations for conduct” so that the administration could revoke press passes in the future.
In the Karem case, Grisham appears to be following a process that was laid out last fall after the Acosta court fight.
Grisham’s letter to Karem said that the suspension is a “preliminary decision,” according to a source. Karem has until Monday to submit a response. Then Grisham will make a final determination.
This process establishes a paper trail and possibly some sort of due process, which was at issue in the Acosta case.
When contacted by CNN on Friday evening, Grisham declined to comment on the action against Karem.
Karem is a highly controversial figure on the White House beat. He writes opinionated columns for Playboy, hosts a podcast and appears on CNN as a political analyst.
Some White House reporters privately grumble that he strays way too far into advocacy territory. But he has won fans and an ardent social media following, especially on the left, for the same reason.
Karem is a fixture at the White House, often heard shouting questions during the president’s brief Q&As with the press. In fact, Trump fielded one of his questions on Friday.
The incident in the White House Rose Garden on July 11 made headlines at the time.
Trump held what he called a “social media summit” of influential online supporters, including some fringe radio hosts and extremist social media personalities.
As the summit wrapped up, Karem tried to shout questions to the president.
He says some of the pro-Trump attendees made critical comments back at him. “Don’t be sad,” someone was heard saying to Karem in a video of the incident.
“This is a group of people that are eager for demonic possession,” he said to some of the attendees. Some of them seemed to laugh. But Gorka responded angrily and questioned if Karem is really a journalist.
Karem waved Gorka over to him. “Come on over here and talk to me, brother. We can go outside and have a long conversation.”
The two men briefly traded barbs, with Gorka saying “you’re not a journalist, you’re a punk.” Videos of the incident went viral on social media and both men were criticized for their behavior. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple called the spat “a battle of loudmouths.”
The White House is asserting that Karem’s conduct should be sanctioned through a suspension of his press pass.
Boutrous, on the other hand, tweeted that “the only person who should be banned from the White House as a result of this exchange” is Gorka.
Playboy signaled on Friday night that the magazine will stand with Karem: “Suspension of credentialed press by the government is incredibly concerning. We are working with our lawyers to appeal the decision.” The magazine added, “Since 1953, Playboy has fought to protect First Amendment rights, and the fight must continue today.”