Psaki-heckling reporter warned of potential WHCA expulsion

Psaki-heckling reporter warned of potential WHCA expulsion

The reporter who plunged Jen Psaki’s final briefing as White House press secretary into chaos Friday by loudly accusing her of allowing only a few journalists to ask questions has been warned by the White House Correspondents Association to cut it out or risk getting kicked out, according to a new report.

Simon Ateba, the chief White House correspondent for Today News Africa, caused an uproar Friday when he repeatedly yelled at Psaki: “Why don’t you take questions from across the room? Because that’s not what you’ve done for the past 15 months” shortly after she had given emotional thank-yous to White House colleagues and members of the media to mark her last day on the job.

Ateba was eventually persuaded to calm down, but not before he had been scolded by NPR reporter Tamara Keith as well as Psaki herself.

“Simon,” the outgoing press secretary said sharply, “if you can respect your colleagues and other media and reporters in here, that would be greatly appreciated.”

According to Mediaite, Ateba was further chastised in an email from WHCA president Steven Portnoy of CBS News Radio.

Simon Ateba of Today News Africa.
Simon Ateba repeatedly yelled at Jen Psaki’s final briefing: “Why don’t you take questions from across the room?”
Simon Ateba/Twitter

“Your disruptive behavior at last Friday’s briefing interrupted your colleagues and reflected poorly on the press corps,” Portnoy reportedly wrote. “There is no right of any reporter to be called on by any official. Preventing your colleagues from asking their questions is no way to seek relief.”

“We note that you have been granted status as an Associate Member of our organization. With that comes a responsibility to act in a collegial manner with your fellow WHCA members,” Portnoy went on, according to Mediaite. “If you again demonstrate disrespect for your colleagues in the manner you did last Friday, the WHCA Board will act on behalf of the collective.”

Portnoy went on to refer Ateba to Article X of the WCHA’s bylaws, which states that members can be suspended “for due cause” by a majority vote of the nine-member executive board — and expelled by a two-thirds vote.

Reporters asked Simon Ateba to stop shouting multiple times.
Reporters asked Simon Ateba to stop shouting multiple times.

In response, Ateba described himself to Mediaite as a “victim” who has been “treated so unfairly” by the 108-year-old group.

“I received the email from WHCA’s president Steven Portnoy with a heavy heart. I am the victim here and I am being treated so unfairly by WHCA. It is sad and it is heartbreaking,” said Ateba, a native of Cameroon who reported for years in Nigeria before making his way to Washington.

“America is the greatest country in the world and no country comes even close,” he went on. “Here in the United States, press freedom is respected, or so I thought, or so I was made to believe.”

Ateba went on to claim to the outlet that he had been discriminated against “due to his origins, being an African covering the White House and focusing on US-Africa ties and interactions for Today News Africa” and called on WHCA to fix the structure of briefings.

“It baffles me that I have to be the one to say that doing press briefings with only people in the first and second rows is extremely discriminatory and should stop,” he said. “WHCA needs to be reformed.”

Press Secretary Jen Psaki conducts her final briefing as White House Press Secretary.
Psaki scolded Ateba for causing the uproar at her final briefing.
Sipa USA via AP

Friday’s interruptions were not the first time Ateba clashed with Psaki. In December, he accused her of lying about coronavirus-related travel restrictions that Ateba claimed unfairly targeted countries in southern Africa.
“You are saying something that is false,” Ateba shouted at Psaki at the time.

Days later, Ateba labeled the restrictions as “racist.”

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