Jim Acosta is a pundit who works for CNN. He was credentialed to attend White House press briefings, which he routinely used as opportunities to share his personal political views and animosity toward President Donald Trump.
The situation with Acosta, who is known as a shameless grandstander who seeks personal attention rather than a journalist who seeks to cover the news, came to a head last week when he repeatedly violated decorum at the White House by offering personal opinions in the place of actual questions, fighting with the president, interrupting the president, and belligerently refusing to return the White House microphone to a staff member.
The White House pulled his hard pass that gives him unfettered access to the White House press briefings. He and CNN sued President Trump, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Bill Shine, Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta’s hard pass away.
Here’s why every single party to this story is wrong.
Jim Acosta Bears Most of the Blame
Precisely no one actually thinks that Acosta is a good news journalist. He might be good entertainment, for some, but he doesn’t break news or accurately report it. He’s a pundit who loves to offer his opinions all day, every day.
Even among his colleagues he’s known as a preener rather than a reporter. He doesn’t break stories or dig into facts. He preens on camera and does it in a way that makes it harder for legitimate press corps members to hold the administration accountable .
Every second that Acosta uses to preen and whine at a press conference is a second that a real journalist can’t use to ask questions or elicit information the American people need to know about. His behavior doesn’t just damage his own reputation, it hurts CNN’s and the entire journalism profession.
His behavior last week crossed a line when he physically refused a young female intern attempting to provide the White House microphone to another reporter. He then doubled down and falsely claimed without evidence that he didn’t touch her. In fact, video evidence showing he did touch her is incontrovertible.
CNN Is Failing Its Brand, Its Employees, and Its Audience
While Acosta is in his 40s, he clearly needs help with his professional development. Instead of being encouraged and promoted, he should be sat down and coached in proper techniques for gathering and broadcasting the news. He should also be taught basic etiquette.
As soon as CNN realized that they had a White House reporter who was intent on making himself the story rather than covering the actual news, they should have given the plum perch to a real reporter who had both the desire and the ability to perform the job and model good behavior for his or her colleagues.
When Acosta made a fool of himself last week, CNN should have encouraged him to apologize for his treatment of the staffer. Instead they poured gasoline on the fire by suing Trump, Sanders, Kelly, Shine, the head of the Secret Service, and the Secret Service employee who took his pass. They claim that Acosta has a First Amendment right to unfettered access to the White House.
WHCA Should Have Stepped In
After Acosta failed to behave appropriately, and CNN failed to behave appropriately, the leaders of the White House Correspondents Association should have stepped in.
The White House Correspondents’ Association is perhaps best known outside of Washington, D.C., for its annual dinner in which left-wing celebrities of varying notoriety attack Republicans. This year’s dinner featured a comedian viciously mocking Sanders’ physical appearance. Its real purpose is to organize journalists who cover the White House. The organization, which was formed in 1914, handles credentialing, access to the White House and the president, and maintenance of the briefing rooms.
It’s important that the press have access to the White House. Any restriction on that is worth sounding the alarm over. It’s also important to be prudent and wise in how the press practices its craft so as to ensure their preservation.
Amy Wajda wrote a book about an unrelated threat to press freedoms titled “The First Amendment Bubble: How Privacy and Paparazzi Threaten a Free Press.” Even more than our strong laws protecting press freedoms is our strong culture protecting the same. She argues that aggressive paparazzi encroaching on people’s privacy endangers that culture that protects the enforcement of press freedoms.
A similar warning is in play here. To protect this culture of unfettered access to the White House, agreeing not to accost young female interns is prudent and proper.
When a press organization fails to handle its own employee’s improper behavior, the White House Correspondents Association shouldn’t make excuses for the media outlet but be the wiser and calmer head that prevails. Instead, it reportedly did the opposite:
The White House Correspondent’s Association issued a statement saying it ‘strongly objects to the Trump Administration’s decision to use US Secret Service security credentials as a tool to punish a reporter with whom it has a difficult relationship. Revoking access to the White House complex is a reaction out of line to the purported offense and is unacceptable. …We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.’
Particularly if the WHCA wants to argue against the revocation of Acosta’s privileges, it can’t ignore what all with eyes can see: Acosta’s behavior at the press conference and treatment of the young female staffer was over the line. Pretending it wasn’t doesn’t give confidence in the WHCA’s position of authority to navigate the affairs it oversees.
White House Shouldn’t Make Acosta a Martyr
It is not the job of the White House or President Trump to tell CNN how they are to manage their employees or affairs. Further, the White House has no business dictating how it’s covered and who covers it.
The White House can, of course, draw the line when members of the press begin accosting White House staff in inappropriate ways. The White House has tolerated Acosta’s behavior for years, no matter how ridiculous. The behavior only crossed the line when he belligerently refused to hand over the government’s microphone he’d been lent.
While CNN has departed from traditional news gathering into an “Orange Man Bad” cartoon version of a news operation, the White House should still allow CNN access, even if it feels the need to limit Acosta because of the threat he poses staff members. And the White House does provide access to CNN, which has some 30 hard passes for reporters covering Donald Trump.
Just from a strategic communications standpoint, however, Acosta was the White House’s best asset as it attempts to convince the country that the media are not doing their jobs well. One could reasonably argue that one Jim Acosta grandstanding moment in front of cameras is worth a thousand “fake news” tweets by the president for making that case. Why turn him into a martyr or otherwise remove him from his special perch that shows the world that CNN and other major media are unable to report the news?