Another Day, Another Attack on the Free Press

On November 7th, the press --some of which have been experiencing unprecedented limitations in their access to the White House for the last two years-- entered for a press conference with the president. What happened next would shock the country.

It was the day after the much-anticipated midterm elections, and while reveling in his victories in the Senate, the president used the press conference to extensively congratulate himself. He mocked those in the GOP who didn’t win for not seeking his help and the many high-profile Democrats--including his predecessor, who spent months traveling the country to invigorate and mobilize voters. He even made the bold leap to assume that he alone is the reason the Republican party maintained control over the Senate and said, “I only had me. I didn't have anybody else.” (ABC 7) However, the president quickly lost control of the situation as the conversation turned to his frequent attacks against the media. He insulted reporters by name, interrupted their questions, ordered many to sit down and even decided one inquiry was “racist.”

Related: Trump Banned a Journalist From the White House for Asking Tough Questions

However, the situation reached a peak during a heated exchange with the CNN Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta. Acosta produced rapid-fire questions about both the migrant caravan and the future of the Russia Investigation, both of which are topics the President would prefer we all forget about. Quickly tiring of sparring with Acosta, the President ordered him to sit down, saying, “CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN."

Via CNN

After an intern got the mic out of Acosta’s hands and moved onto another reporter, the press conference went on as though nothing had happened. However, when Acosta went to another event with the White House later that evening and was denied entrance by Secret Service for an event he’d been cleared to attend. While Acosta does not blame the Secret Service agents for doing their jobs, it became even more controversial when Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that his press credentials, or his “hard pass” had been revoked, stating:

“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. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable..”

The altercation she was referring to took place as an intern attempted to get the microphone from Acosta, with him responding by saying “pardon me, ma’am.” Acosta denied their claims, stating in a tweet that it was “a lie.” These accusations were also not mentioned in the court documents, leading many to believe that they simply were never true to begin with and the White House was using it strategically to deflect the blame.

CNN took the matter to court, with Federal Judge Timothy J. Kelly ruled to restore Acosta’s press credentials for 14 days,  stating that Acosta’s Fifth Amendment rights were infringed upon, and while Judge Kelly did not rule on the underlying case he did say that he believes CNN and Acosta are likely to prevail overall. Following this, Acosta arrived at the White House and received his hard pass again, saying simply “let’s get back to work.” The White House picked up the gauntlet against Acosta again by promising to revoke his credentials again at the end of the 14 days, they put it back down again after CNN filed for an emergency ruling.

Via The Root

This standoff between CNN and the White House is an unprecedented break from the traditional relationship between the press and the White House, adding more fuel to an administration that has been filled with anti-journalistic sentiment. Never before has the hard pass of a White House journalist been revoked as punishment, and the fact that they demonstrated that they believe they have the legal right to revoke the press pass of any journalist it disagrees with demonstrates that they believe themselves to also have the right to choose who can and cannot have access.

Related: I’m Worried About the Future of the Free Press

While every journalist is not given a press pass, previous administrations have granted passes to a wide variety of organizations and viewpoints and this administration has broken with this precedent many times in an attempt to control the press. Many Presidents would no doubt have preferred to be able to shut down reporters who were questioning them, but until now all of them have agreed that it is not their place to interfere with the free press. Acosta and CNN may have won for now, but this battle has poured gasoline on the already fraught relationship between the President and the media.

Acosta doesn’t have a First Amendment right to be called into the White House, but he does have a First Amendment right to report on the news without fear of being stripped of his hard pass for how he chooses to report it.