Freedom of the press - that’s what CNN’s Jim Acosta is all about, right? Wrong. What he’s about is lecturing the president, then trying to debate him, refusing to abide by common rules of a presidential press conference and then making it clear to a young intern that he’s the boss and she’s nobody.
President Donald Trump said, hey, that’s it for your White House press pass, and CNN, insistent on flaunting its absolutely incredible ignorance, said that’s unconstitutional and a lawsuit is on the way. Here we have more reason to wring our hands. The press is hardly the enemy of the people, as Trump has disgracefully said, but news outlets should prove him wrong primarily through politically neutral, objective reporting and by at least hinting they understand the basics of constitutional law.
Yes, straight news reporters have every right to ask tough, adversarial questions, but they are also ordinarily supposed to keep their opinions out of it. Acosta raised the issue of the caravan of Central American migrants headed this way and Trump answered him but Acosta kept having at him, instructing him on how off base he really, truly was.
He said Trump was wrong in calling these people invaders and demonizing immigrants generally, and Trump said he was for immigrants but wanted to have a legitimate process of entry in which people couldn’t just come into the country any way they liked. Acosta kept going on and on even though it’s generally the case that a reporter asks one question and maybe a follow-up question or two. You then show respect for others in the room wanting to be heard and shut up when the president calls on someone else.
With other reporters waving their arms for attention, Trump told Acosta to hand over his microphone and sit down. When the intern came up to take it, he yanked it away, making you wonder if Trump would also send this misbehaving kid to the principal’s office.
His freedoms were infringed? No. A president does not have to hold press conferences at all and can include or exclude anyone he wants. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to hold press conferences of selected reporters in the Oval Office and prohibit them from quoting him without special permission. FDR never ranted publicly about fake news, but did refer to “the stupidity, cowardice and philistinism of working newspapermen.”
The administration of President Barack Obama, meanwhile, spied on reporters and threatened some with jail if they did not report sources on national security stories. The oh-so transparent Obama team also broke records for coming up short on requests in 77 percent of the cases in which citizens asked for government information under the Freedom of Information Act. One official admitted to intentionally misleading reporters on the Iran deal. All of this did get attention, but not to the extent of Trump’s tweets.
CNN’s anti-Trump reportorial thesis has contributed to some large errors on its part, and thank heavens for the corrective Fox News, a consistent counterweight both to it and other examples of liberal overreaching. But Fox News is supporting CNN in its legal action right now and it’s clear why. It is trying to clear its name after its news commentator, Sean Hannity, actually gave a speech at a Trump campaign rally. He is on the opinion side of the business and has leeway to go where straight news reporters should not tarry. But this is political involvement of a kind that would cost many journalists their jobs, and the network and a number of Hannity’s Fox comrades have expressed their displeasure.
Trump, by the way, did not ban CNN from sending other reporters to Trump press conferences and CNN is also hardly the only news outlet whose political bias leads them to excesses as bad or worse than his. The press must take care in not undermining its credibility as badly as Trump does.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.