- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A federal judge ordered the White House Tuesday night to restore the press pass of Playboy correspondent Brian Karem over a verbal altercation in the Rose Garden in July with former White House aide Sebastian Gorka.

U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras, an Obama appointee, granted a preliminary injunction restoring Mr. Karem’s “hard pass.” He ruled that the reporter had no clear notice of the rules governing press behavior at the White House.

“’White House events’ appear to vary greatly in character,” the judge wrote in a 24-page opinion. “Thus, without any contextual guideposts, ‘professionalism,’ standing alone, remains too murky to provide fair notice here. What is deemed ‘professional’ behavior in the context of a state dinner may be very different from what is considered ‘professional’ behavior during a performance by James Brown.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham disagreed with the decision, saying the ruling “essentially gives free rein to members of the press to engage in unprofessional, disruptive conduct at the White House.”

Mr. Karem’s conduct, including threatening to escalate a verbal confrontation into a physical one to the point that a Secret Service agent intervened, clearly breached well-understood norms of professional conduct,” she said. “The press secretary must have the ability to deter such unacceptable conduct.”

The ruling doesn’t guarantee that Mr. Karem’s press pass will be restored permanently. The judge’s order grants temporary relief to the journalist while his lawsuit against the White House is argued.

When Ms. Grisham imposed the 30-day suspension last month, she said Mr. Karem had violated commonly understood standards of professionalism.

At the Rose Garden event, Mr. Karem commented loudly that a group of invited conservative social media personalities were “eager for demonic possession.” Mr. Gorka, a radio host on the Salem network, approached Mr. Karem and called him a “punk.”

Mr. Karem offered to continue their conversation outside, a comment that some considered a challenge to a fight. Mr. Karem later said he only intended for them to move their confrontational discussion to a location other than the Rose Garden.

Ms. Grisham said the White House spelled out standards of conduct for journalists in November 2018 after CNN reporter Jim Acosta had his pass revoked temporarily over a microphone-grabbing incident with a White House intern at a presidential press conference.

The judge said it wasn’t clear that the White House’s advisory about Mr. Acosta’s conduct also applied at other events in addition to press conferences.

“This [Rose Garden] event was also one where jocular insults had been flying from all directions,” the judge wrote. “There is no indication in the record that other offenders were reprimanded, or even told to stop.”
The judge added, “Taking into account all of the evidence in the present record, the court cannot conclude that Karem’s behavior was clearly proscribed by the Acosta Letter’s standard, or even by any widely understood standard of ‘professionalism’ or ‘decorum’ within the context of such an unruly event.”

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