BOSTON (CBS) – Six days after a squabble between President Trump and CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta during a presidential press conference led to the withdrawal of Acosta’s access pass, the cable network is taking its case to court with a lawsuit naming the president and top White House aides.

“It’s really a classic First Amendment viewpoint content-based discrimination against speech,” says CNN lawyer Ted Boutrous. “When the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass it’s clear it was based on the content of his reporting, the fact that he was asking tough questions and has been doing that.”

But while there’s widespread disgust among journalists with this president’s treatment of the press dating back to his 2016 campaign, support for Acosta and CNN’s position is far from unanimous.

While presidential spokeswoman Sarah Sanders initially justified Acosta’s punishment based on doctored video of his encounter with a White House intern who tried to retrieve the microphone from him, she’s singing a more persuasive tune in a statement today: “This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters…. The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor.”

The White House is clearly relishing the chance to renew its politically crowd-pleasing war with the media, a point made Tuesday by journalist Bob Woodward, who says “when we engage in Trump’s strategy, we’re taking his bait.”

But while Acosta maintains he was “just trying to ask a question of the president,” that’s not how the journalism experts at the pro-free-speech Poynter Institute saw it, noting Acosta seemed more focused on making statements than asking questions.

“We can’t have the White House or government officials arbitrarily tossing people out of the White House or other government facilities just because they don’t like what they’re saying or what they’re reporting,” argues Boutrous, and that’s true. But access to those press conferences is not unlimited.

And maybe the solution here lies not in a courtroom, but in a less-costly, more civil way of settling a spat between co-dependents – apologies all around, and promises to do better.

Jon Keller

Comments
  1. Theodore Oule says:

    Your argument, and the argument of CNN and Acosta, falls on the fact that Acosta, representing CNN, was frequently allowed to ask questions at press briefings and news conferences. It also falls on the fact that more than two-score “journalists” from CNN have, and continue to have, press passes.

    Had the Trump White House banned CNN from the premises, a case might have been able to be made.

    There is no constitutional “right” to a press pass to the White House; journalists are present at the pleasure of the President and his administration.

    Trump and Sanders have tolerated Acosta’s boorish behavior for almost two years. He has been warned numerous times that his behavior could have consequences.

    Acosta ignored the warnings. And it was Acosta that initiate the current kerfuffle by forcefully refusing to return the microphone to the intern sent to retrieve it.

    I understand your affiliation with Acosta, Jon, but I have to comment on the knee-jerk nature of that support. And I am disappointed that you haven’t done the work to understand the limits of a free press, particularly when you are a guest at a press conference.

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