Published November 16, 2018
Question: What does CNN’s Jim Acosta crave more than anything? If you said “attention,” go to the head of the class. It’s a mystery why the White House has given Acosta way more than that. By yanking his “hard pass” after last week’s press conference (don’t ask who was obnoxious; they all were), Acosta has literally become a federal case. CNN filed suit claiming that its reporter’s First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated. More than a dozen news organizations, including Fox, have filed amicus briefs supporting CNN, and even Trump-friendly Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano has opined that Acosta has a strong case. Mr. Showboat is just where he wants to be — the center of attention — but thanks to President Trump’s gratuitous swipe, he is also a free-press martyr.
Acosta’s technique has been honed for many months — asking questions not to receive answers but to shame. At the November 7 press conference, Acosta rose to “challenge” the president on what he had said about the caravan during the closing days of the campaign. “As you know Mr. President, the caravan was not an invasion. It’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the U.S.”
It’s not Acosta’s job to joust with the president over interpretations of words. Leave that to commentators or politicians. He could have asked the president where he got his information about Middle Eastern terrorists infiltrating into the caravan, or what his evidence was that there were many criminals in its ranks. He might have asked what purpose U.S. troops would serve at the border in light of the Posse Comitatus Act. He could have asked whether the president thought any of the migrants might have colorable asylum claims. Instead, he demanded: “Do you think you demonized immigrants?”
Frankly, if Acosta thinks the president demonized immigrants, let him write an op-ed. A press conference is supposed to be about eliciting information. Acosta doesn’t practice journalism so much as performance art.
The White House handled this mosquito in about the worst possible way. The president could have declined to call on him. Having called on him and been offended by his tone, the president could have refused to take the bait, saying “You might want to run for office yourself. In the meantime, I’ll call on someone who wants to ask a question, not stage a debate.”
Instead, in a fit of petulance, the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass. This is Trump not understanding the import of the office he holds. When Trump the businessman took swipes at press coverage he disliked, it was pique. When the president of the United States does it, it smacks of authoritarianism. Admittedly, the press corps are a high-strung bunch, but this White House flirts with intimidation, calling down contempt for them at rallies, deriding them as the “enemy of the people” (which is an echo of Stalin, whether Trump recognizes it or not), threatening to sic the FTC on the owner of the Washington Post, and elevating the likes of Gateway Pundit.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who cannot be much more honest than her boss and hope to keep her job, issued a tweet explaining that Acosta was exiled because he had accosted the intern who attempted to remove the mic from his hands. “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. . . .”
Anyone who watched the exchange — or looked it up on YouTube — knew that this was risible. Yet Sanders said it anyway and even released a video that had been slightly doctored (by speeding it up) to make it seem that Acosta had been physically swatting at the intern.
Within a few days, Sanders changed her tune, claiming instead that the White House cannot run a smooth press conference if reporters hog the mic. But let’s pause to consider where this White House has settled. Covering up for an intemperate retaliation against a journalist, the spokesman for the president of the United States attempted to rewrite the history that we had all seen with our own eyes just days before.
Ms. Sanders would be a great fit in the Ministry of Truth.
© 2018 Creators.com
— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.