We Used to Call it the Press

Declan Leary, Op/Ed Editor

Everyone knows that the current administration has had a strained relationship with the press. This strain has never been more clearly on display than during a Nov. 7 press conference which the media establishment carefully spun into a major headline.

Over the course of the nearly two-hour-long event, the president fielded accusatory “questions” on everything from Putin, to domestic terrorism, to his strained relationships with some members of Congress. Correspondents shouted; they heckled and interrupted the president; they interrupted each other. Overall, the whole affair seemed much more like a protest than it did a press conference.

The highlight came when Jim Acosta, chief White House correspondent for CNN, stood up and began by accusing the president of lying, asking him how he could dare to call the mass of thousands of foreign nationals approaching our border an “invasion.” The president answered, very calmly and sensibly: “Because I consider it an invasion. You and I have a difference of opinion…” Acosta interrupted the president with another accusation in the form of a question: “Do you think that you demonized immigrants in this election?” by which he clearly meant “You demonized immigrants in this election.” The president denied the accusation and firmly reiterated his support for legal immigration.

Acosta then explained to the president that the caravan cannot possibly be considered an invasion because “it’s hundreds of miles away.” This is certainly an odd metric for determining the nature of an invasion. I wonder if CNN would respond to an approaching force from a supposedly non-victimized group of people (the Russians, say?) with a nonchalant “Hey, don’t worry about it, they’re all the way over there.”

The president responded, “I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN.” Blunt? Certainly. But unfair? I don’t think so. The reporter had been bickering with the president for over a minute and had yet to get to a substantial question — or, at least, a question that was genuinely asked in search of an answer and not of a soapbox.

This was not unusual for Acosta. The reporter was famously aggressive towards President Barack Obama with respect to ISIS in 2015, concluding his monologue with the catchy sound bite “Why can’t we take out these bastards?” President Obama’s response (“Well, Jim, I just spent the the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add.”) addressed the obvious fact that Acosta didn’t want an answer — he wanted his face on screens and a memorable line on record.

In the more recent incident, the president answered the question, concluded the exchange and called on another reporter. (He had been sticking throughout the event to a strict policy of one question per correspondent.) Acosta started to raise his voice to speak over the president, insisting on a second question about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. A young, female White House Intern approached Acosta to take away the microphone. It was understandable — he was well past the time allotted to him, and he was being openly disrespectful of the office of the president, the other correspondents waiting to ask questions and the journalistic profession as a whole. Acosta pushed her arm away and continued to speak. The president offered an abrupt response to the second question and Acosta finally sat down.

Following the press conference, Acosta’s press pass was suspended and confiscated by the Secret Service. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited the correspondent’s physical rebuke of the young intern as the primary cause, tweeting a video of the incident.

The mainstream leftist media, including Acosta’s own CNN, quickly jumped on accusations that the video had been altered to make Acosta’s swipe at the woman seem more aggressive. After these outlets ran with this conspiracy theory for a few days, analysis of the video demonstrated that the change in speed was an inevitable and unintentional result of the conversion from one format to another. The failure to investigate this claim before promoting it all over the internet and TV clearly betrays the widespread lack of journalistic integrity in the industry which understandably frustrates the president and his allies.

Acosta’s actions at the press conference were not violent, and maybe not even aggressive, but his physical contact with the White House Intern was the culmination of an episode of improper and inappropriate conduct which could have reasonably disqualified him from the privilege of access even before he put his hand on her. It was just another chapter in the long story of a man of questionable standards working for a company of questionable standards, whose search for a story almost always prevails over regard for the truth.

Nov. 7’s spectacle was, more than anything, a blatant display of unprofessionalism and disregard for even the most basic standards of journalism. Jim Acosta used his position at CNN and his access to the White House to grandstand and lecture. His job is to find the truth and report on it. If he wants to moralize he can join me on the Op/Ed page, if any paper will hire him. If he wants to politic he can run for Congress, if any district will elect him. But if he wants to call himself a reporter, he should start acting like one.

It would be wonderful if Jim Acosta and the rest of the leftist media could respect the dignity of the president’s job. But at this point, I’d be happy if they just managed to respect their own. As the president himself remarked at the end of the conference in question, “We used to call it the press.” Now, we can’t call it anything but a circus.