Culture

Jim Acosta Leads CNN’s Breathless Crusade against the White House

CNN reporter Jim Acosta asks President Trump a question during a White House news conference in February. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
The White House correspondent has been obsessing over CNN’s feud with Trump rather than reporting on the administration.

Jim Acosta, CNN’s White House correspondent, has been having a public meltdown regarding the president’s treatment of the media, and the Washington Post has noticed.

The Post’s media reporter, Paul Farhi, launched an inquiry into Acosta’s “grandstanding” in a piece in Sunday’s style section.

“Acosta’s remarks aren’t just blunt; they’re unusual. Reporters are supposed to report, not opine,” wrote Farhi. “Yet Acosta’s disdain has flowed openly, raising a question about how far a reporter — supposedly a neutral arbiter of facts, not a commenter on them — can and should go.”

While CNN host Brian Stelter’s 15-minute monologues moaning about Trump’s treatment of the press are run-of-the-mill for cable-news pundits, Acosta’s public displays of resistance in the White House press-briefing room break all precedent. Rather than press Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Trump’s agenda, Acosta has spent since roughly last February focusing on how the White House conducts its press briefings and how it treats CNN.

Acosta’s repeated badgering of Spicer to hold on-camera briefings creates clip-worthy scenes, which feel like a bold defense of journalism, even though, given the nature of White House press briefings, they do not actually matter much. Briefings say most about a president’s communications angle, and seeing as Trump seems not to have any clear communications strategy or message beyond his Twitter feed, the briefing has become little more than a charade.

That has not stopped Acosta from tweeting out photos of his socks at non-televised briefings (“I can’t show you a picture of Sean. So here is a look at some new socks I bought over the wknd”), changing his Twitter bio to “I believe in #realnews,” and lambasting an “erosion of our freedoms” at every possible television appearance.

Of course, CNN has been goading this inanity at every point of his performance, no doubt because this “feud” between CNN and the White House generates so many views. While Trump’s communications team has haplessly attempted to cling to #EnergyWeek and #InfrastructureWeek as the media cares only about Russia, CNN has sent its Supreme Court sketch artist to the briefings at which cameras are prohibited. After all, nothing stands more in the way of democracy than not knowing what color tie Sean Spicer chose on a given day.

But of course, if Acosta has legitimate concerns with Trump’s policy and politics, it makes sense that he would clamor for direct access. For the sake of fairness, let’s go through Acosta’s journalistic highlights since the ascent of Trump.

While the rest of CNN’s reporters were presumably licking their wounds and listening to some spoken-word poetry following Trump’s victory, Acosta broke out some of the network’s hardest-hitting reporting, booking reservations at the Michelin-starred Jean Georges restaurant to stalk the then-president-elect at dinner with Reince Priebus and rumored secretary of state candidate Mitt Romney. At least 20 feet away from the dinner, Acosta live-tweeted all sorts of juicy scoops, such as “Trump crossing his arms for a good while now as Romney smiles and speaks” and “Fresh marshmallows are prepared as Trump, Romney, and Priebus dine.” Acosta was promptly “#busted” — yes, that’s a direct quote from Acosta’s tweets — when Trump approached Acosta, but that didn’t stop him from reporting later that “Trump, Romney, and Priebus have moved on to dessert.”

In June, Acosta was quick to quote an anonymous White House official, claiming that Trump did not meet with Representative Steve Scalise following the shooting at Alexandria. Fewer than 30 minutes later, Acosta debunked his own false claim, which had presumably come from a made-up or unreliable source.

Last Thursday, Acosta perpetuated the New York Times’ erroneous assertion that 17 intelligence agencies have claimed that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections (in fact, it was four), but not before calling Trump’s joint news conference in Poland a “fake news conference” for taking a question from a Daily Mail reporter who is “essentially an ally of the White House.”

Never mind that Trump also called on MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson at the conference. (Jackson called on Trump to formally acknowledge that Russia interfered in the election. Trump said that it might be Russia and then deflected to “But Obama” and a strange aside about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.)

Perhaps Acosta’s complaints would be more valid if he agitated for the rights of any other news organizations. Instead, his complaining revolves solely around Trump and CNN, obsessing over this relationship rather than what the government is actually doing.

Furthermore, Trump’s antipathy to the media is not exactly unprecedented. Throughout his presidency, Obama openly and repeatedly derided Fox News’s “destructive viewpoint.” 

Less than a year into his presidency, Obama’s communications director, Anita Dunn, told the New York Times, “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent.”

“Attacking the news media is a time-honored White House tactic, but to an unusual degree, the Obama administration has narrowed its sights to one specific organization, the Fox News Channel, calling it, in essence, part of the political opposition,” wrote the Times. “But shots are still being fired, which animates the idea that both sides see benefits in the feud.”

The Times reporter who penned the piece? Brian Stelter.

That doesn’t exonerate Trump, who uses hostility toward the press largely to feed his base a daily dose of the #FakeNewsMSM. However, it does point to a specific hysteria aimed at Trump, one that few in the media entertained when the president’s focus was Fox instead of CNN.

Just as Fox milked outrage over Obama for views, CNN is doing the same with Trump for clicks. (No word on how well this is working, considering that Nick At Nite just beat CNN’s primetime viewership.) All I know is that for all the supposed lack of “access” that Acosta weeps about, it’s worth noting that Kellyanne Conway bickered with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday for 35 minutes. That was more than 25 minutes longer than the planned slot time. So you tell me how CNN does not have access to the White House.

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Tiana Lowe — Tiana Lowe is a senior pursuing her B.S. in economics and mathematics at the University of Southern California and a former editorial intern at National Review.

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