If CNN reporter Jim Acosta is such a troublous force inside the White House Briefing Room—a “rude, terrible person” as President Donald Trump recently put it—deserving of being banned from White House grounds, then why did Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders routinely call on him during the televised question and answer periods at the White House over the past 22 months?
Had Acosta’s behavior truly offended them, Sanders and Trump could have permanently stifled the pesky reporter by treating him like a ghost, averting their gazes and picking other reporters during question time. Acosta couldn’t have done anything about it. Instead, Sanders and Trump regularly called on Acosta, counting on the likelihood that he would do that Acosta thing of speechifying and playing microphone hog as he attempts to turn a question into an extended back-and-forth. Sanders and Trump have pretended exasperation at Acosta’s posturing—posturing that hasn’t broken much news, by the way—but not so secretly they happily wallow in his pomposity. By getting Acosta to play the preening, self-aggrandizing, sanctimonious reporter and using him as the punching bag for the White House’s anti-press strategy, Sanders and Trump have created a unique public venue to exhibit their hatred for the “fake news” of CNN.
The TV moments created by Acosta’s clashes—see theGuardian’s reel of their best sparring matches—have served him, too. If you’re a fan of reporters who are better at lecturing than asking a question and think White House briefings and presidential press conferences should resemble the bloodsport of duels, then you probably find the Acosta clashes sufficiently enriching to make CNN your cable news destination.
Acosta’s forced exile and the lawsuit filed by CNN today demanding that Sanders and Trump return the “hard pass” that will allow him to roam the White House grounds have turned him into a free speech martyr, which I suppose he is. Like all First Amendment radicals, I deplore the Acosta ban and look forward to the day that he’s back in the White House making a pest of himself again. The case law cited in the suit by lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous, a top cock in the First Amendment bar’s pecking order, appears to prevent the White House from arbitrarily banning reporters from White House press facilities “for less than compelling reasons.” Even Fox News Channel’s legal analyst Andrew Napolitano predicts that the matter will be resolved “quickly“ in CNN’s favor.