Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press: a phrase so etched within the American public consciousness, so basic a foundation of our human rights now under attack and from the governing body sworn to uphold it. On November 7th of this year, CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta found himself in a verbal altercation with President Trump during a daily press conference, wherein Trump asked Trump questions about the previous week’s midterm elections; after a terse but hostile round of questions, WH Press Secretary Sarah Sanders elected to revoke Acosta of his White House press pass. After that choice, CNN corporate decided to file a lawsuit against Trump and the White House. This decision perfectly exemplifies both the press’ devotion to accountability and the shocking lengths to which this administration will go to suppress dissent.
Before discussing why this issue matters, one must understand the context behind its occurrence: Jim Acosta, beyond serving as CNN’s now former WH correspondent, also stands among one of the more vocal critics of President Trump, possessing a fair share of the history of critiquing the president during press events. In this specific case, he asked Trump questions regarding the midterms, specifically the increasing allegations of voter suppression. After which, Trump began to insult Acosta, calling “rude” and “a terrible person”; this conflict reached a fever pitch when Acosta put his hands on a female WH intern who attempted to remove the microphone (so as to allow other reporters to speak).
In the manner of evenhandedness, yes: the WH correctly claimed Acosta dominated the floor and prevented other reporters from speaking; however, almost every other claim held virtually no basis. Starting with the claim that the WH intern did her job, that’s true. However, Acosta putting his hands on her grossly overblows the situation. The day after this incident, Sanders posted a video to her Twitter, which depicted Acosta hitting the intern. The issue with this comes from the fact that this video appeared edited to make Acosta look like he hit her, supported by an identical video popping up on conspiracy theory site InfoWars and other conservative forums; the real video reportedly showed Acosta brushing her arm while saying, “Pardon me, ma’am.”
One may and should wonder why the White House, the purported representatives of the American people, would use a doctored video as the basis for revoking a press pass? The answer involves the continuing and severely disturbing battle this administration wages against the free press. Anyone tuned into the news knows how Trump feels about the media, most notably advocating for the physical harm of journalists in a mock tweet from July of last year and calling the media the “enemy of the people”, even after the CNN bomb threat of late October. Sadly, none of this surprises anyone anymore; stripping a reporter of access to knowledge essential for the American people, should upset us all. Imagine the situation like this: if any journalists annoyed any political ruler enough to revoke them of their pass, how would anyone know about the internal ongoings of the nation? Would we just live in “blissful” ignorance, only hearing what the government wants us to hear. Who would hold our appointed office-holders accountable for any potential transgressions?
These questions sum up the heart of the issue: accountability. Yes, the phrase does sound hyperbolic, and yes, sometimes a story ends up spun a certain way to fit a narrative; however, the press throughout history, largely upheld its duty to hold not just governmental bureaucrats, but anyone in power: the press blew the lid on the illegalities & power abuses of the Watergate scandal, resulting in considerable increases in legal action against presidents, their administrations, and the US government in general. Individual reporters willingly gave up their careers by questioning the actions of our military during the Iraq War; and even now, major journalistic organizations pledge to hold the president & his administration accountable for any and all actions, a promise with which all Americans should stand in solidarity.
*As of November 16th 2018 at 4:29 p.m., the Supreme Court ruled in favor of reinstating Acosta’s press pass.