One America Nation Network (OANN) has been removed from the seat rotation in the White House briefing room after OANN correspondent Chanel Rion attended two coronavirus task force briefings — on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week — despite not having her name on the seating chart. The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that a White House Correspondents’ Association member had asked her to leave, but Rion refused and told them she was there “as a guest of Stephanie Grisham,” the White House Press Secretary. The White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents White House journalists, sent a letter informing their members of the transgression before Wednesday’s briefing concluded. “We are writing to inform you that the WHCA Board has voted this evening to remove a news outlet from the rotation for a seat in the briefing room,” it said. “We did this because a reporter for this outlet twice attended press briefings in contravention of this policy. We do not take this action lightly. This is a matter of public safety.”
OANN and Rion have gained a favorable reputation with President Trump over the course of his presidency. Chanel Rion has Facebook pictures of herself socializing with the Trumps and has proudly “been aboard the Trump Train from its first week,” according to an article in The Washington Post. Rion often asks questions that imply fringe conspiracies and has worked to reinforce White House narratives that defend Trump’s presidency. During Trump’s impeachment proceedings, Rion was in Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, shooting a “multipart series promoting unfounded conspiracy theories aimed at defending Trump against the allegations at the center of his impeachment,” as reported by Politico. Later, when Trump was challenged about the racial rhetoric around the term “Chinese virus,” Rion asked Trump whether “Chinese food” was also racist terminology. According to The Washington Post, when Trump picked Rion for a question in Monday’s briefing, she compared coronavirus deaths to abortion deaths and asked if Trump agreed “with states who place coronavirus victims above elective abortions?” Once, after calling on Rion at a briefing, Trump reportedly said, “OANN. Very good. They treat me very nicely.”
Jonathan Karl, White House Correspondents’ Association President and ABC News’s White House reporter, says he notified Stephanie Grisham and the White House press office on Tuesday that OANN was in “a clear violation” of the guidelines put in place for coronavirus safety, according to The Washington Post. “The rules are clear. If you don’t have a seat in the briefing room on your given day, you cannot be there. The rules are established to protect the health of the White House press corps. We’re abiding by the [Centers for Disease Control’s] guidelines,” said Jonathan Karl. OANN founder and CEO Charles Herring sent an email arguing to the contrary, saying that Rion’s presence “was appropriate” because she had been invited although he did not specify who invited her or why.
On Tuesday, Jonathan Karl announced that the White House correspondent who was suspected of contracting the coronavirus tested negative, saying, “I have just been advised that our colleague who we learned last week had a suspected case of COVID-19 has finally received test results. They were negative.” The coronavirus scare prompted stricter guidelines in the James S. Brady briefing room, lessening the number of reporters from 25 to 14. “We understand these restrictions are deeply disruptive to our members and their ability to do their jobs,” the White House Correspondents’ Association said. “But we are forced to take these steps to do our part to ensure that there is a healthy pool available to cover the president and inform the public during this critical time.”