EXCLUSIVE: WH correspondent Simon Ateba reacts to ‘insensitive’ Biden response to Nashville shooting

As yet another tragic school shooting fills the news cycle, the immediate responses from President Biden and his spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre left White House correspondent Simon Ateba  “disturbed.”

“When people have died, and you have the president, the first thing you should say — you come to that mic — the first thing you should say is to acknowledge it and [offer] prayers,” Ateba told BizPac Review in a Tuesday morning phone interview. “You don’t joke.”

As BPR reported, Jean-Pierre quickly placed the blame for the deaths of three children and three adults at the hands of a transgender Nashville shooter on Republicans during Monday’s press briefing, blasting them for failing to pass Biden’s ban on assault rifles. 

“How many more children have to be murdered before Republicans in Congress will step up and act to pass the assault weapons ban, to close loopholes in our background … in our background check system, or to require the safe storage of guns?” Jean-Pierre asked. “We need to do something. Once again, the president calls on Congress to do something before another child is senselessly killed in a preventable act of gun violence. Again, we need to do something.”

It was a purely political — and, sadly, completely predictable — response from the White House spokesperson, one made even more infuriating by President Biden’s cheerful disposition and jokes about chocolate chip ice cream when he later addressed the crowd.

Ateba, a longtime, much-needed thorn in Jean-Pierre’s side, noted that, when President Biden opened with his jovial tone, he did so knowing full well the scope of the tragedy.

“There were two events yesterday,” he explained. “The first one was the press briefing. Karine Jean-Pierre explained to us that the president had been briefed on the Nashville shooting.”

“So the president was well aware before he went to speak,” he continued. “The first thing he should have done was to acknowledge it, call for prayers and acknowledge the victims instead of joking, —  having that ice cream joke — as he was well aware, even before.”

Monday’s press briefing was delayed as information about the shooting at The Covenant School, a private Presbyterian school for preschool through 6th-grade students, poured into the White House.

“We were supposed to have the press briefing around 1 p.m. but because, at that time, I think at around 1 p.m., we were still getting updates from the shooting, they delayed the press briefing for almost an hour. If you go back online, you will see that the press briefing started, maybe at around 1:50 or 1:55,” Ateba said. 

“And the president started speaking at a few minutes before 3 p.m.,” he continued. “And so, he was well aware, and that was really— it was so insensitive. That is the word I can use. So insensitive.”

“And you know, people were outraged by the way he handled it. By the way he began. His remarks,” the Today News Africa reporter added. “He later came and talked about it and also began to blame guns. That was unfortunate.”

Ateba, who was actually imprisoned in his home country of Cameroon for simply doing his job as a journalist, was disheartened by the lack of “pushback” from his fellow journalists — a fact that speaks to the very heart of his public battles with Karine Jean-Pierre.

“When the press secretary came and she blamed Republicans, what you realize in the briefing room is, there was no pushback from correspondents,” he said. “And that’s because, usually, she doesn’t take questions from people like me. And she doesn’t take questions from people on the right, people who may push back, who may ask the tough questions.”

“So that’s why she avoids me, that’s why she avoids half the briefing room,” he stated. “And so, when she comes and she reads something, you know, the talking points are the Democrats’. There is really no one to push back. Those who would like to push back, often they don’t get called on.”

But it was the reaction from the crowd to Biden’s remark that seemed to truly give the journalist pause.

“When the president came to speak after the press briefing, and he made the ice cream joke, you heard people laugh in the background,” he recalled. “People were laughing.”

It turns out that Biden was playing to a very friendly crowd.

“He had a lot of guests there, and they were also insensitive,” Ateba said. “They should have understood that three kids had just been killed. Three adults had also been killed. And it was seen in the news.”

“I guess they had their phones,” Ateba reasoned, “because most people, they have their phones, so they knew what was going on. They knew when they came in. They knew there was a shooting. But they also were laughing along with the president. That was also very unfortunate and very insensitive.”

And to add further insult, when Ateba reported on Twitter about the president’s remarks, he was slapped with a “context” label. 

“This is crazy!” he tweeted. “Because my tweet has been seen by 2 million people since I shared it a few hours ago, somehow, Twitter informed me that someone (maybe the White House) has ‘added a context to it’.”

“However, I had clarified in the tweet that President Biden later addressed the shooting,” he wrote. “This is the problem, once your tweets are seen by millions of people, all kinds of things begin to pop up!”

And even with a video of the president saying what he did, Ateba was accused of spreading “fake news.”

“Actually someone came to my tweet and said, ‘This is fake news. It’s fake news,’” he told BPR. “And people say, ‘How can this be fake news?’ It’s crazy.”

But Ateba remains resolved to “empower” people with the truth.

“I feel like one of the things I am doing now is making sure we empower people with the accurate information and give them the tools to fight back,” he said. “You give them the tools by giving them the right texts, the right videos, the right emails, the right context, the right perspective. Once you do that and people have the raw video, people can fight back.”

“So, when someone came to my tweet and said the president never said what he said, people were able to fight back because now they have the video,” he said.”They can fight back. I direct them to where they can find it.”

Pushing back, Ateba acknowledged, can be “lonely,” but he said it is worth it in the end.

“You know it can be hard, it can be lonely, once you push back,” he said. “Once you try to do your job, you find yourself alone.”

While his fellow journalists may support him in private, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will have his back in public.

“What they do is, they support you in private, they text you, they DM you, but they don’t really do it in public because they don’t want to be in the ‘bad book,’” he said. “They still want to get their questions answered. So, pushing back, speaking up, standing up can be really hard, can be difficult.”

The treatment he has received with Karine Jean-Pierre at the podium has been a “shock” for Ateba.

“First of all, what’s happened to me is a bit of a shock, because when I was in Africa, I looked up to the U.S.,” he explained. “Most people look up to the U.S., and the reason they look up to the U.S. is because of the freedoms that we have here.” 

“First of all, the First Amendment, right? We protect free speech, freedom of the press, association, and even the right to petition the government to seek redress. And that’s the big one,” he stated. “Once you lose it, you become a dictatorship. And then the country collapses and you become poor, because people are no more free, people cannot be creative. 

“And so, that’s my biggest concern,” he continued. “And it’s disturbing to see that the U.S., somehow, doesn’t really implement some of the things that the country preaches.”

“I know the U.S. is not China, where you can’t even ask a question to the guy in power, and if you ask them a controversial question, they may come after you. They may jail you,” he said. “But, in the White House, I’m also facing the same thing, right? I am being silenced. I am being sidelined. I’m being discriminated against. All because I try to ask questions. So, it’s like a retaliation. And I didn’t expect it in the U.S.”

“But the truth eventually ages well,” Ateba said. “When you do the right thing, when you stand for the right thing, when you try to do your job and ask the right questions, even when you are shut down, the truth is the truth.”


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