Commentary: White House justified in disciplining CNN’s Acosta for press conference behavior

Commentary: White House justified in disciplining CNN’s Acosta for press conference behavior
President Donald Trump (R) gets into a heated exchange with CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (C) as NBC correspondent Peter Alexander (L) looks on during a post-election press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on November 7, 2018. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House announced that it was restricting White House access for CNN’s Jim Acosta after a heated exchange between Acosta and President Donald Trump during a Wednesday press conference.

The interaction included Trump calling Acosta the “enemy of the people” and saying CNN should be embarrassed for employing him, and Acosta playing tug of war with a White House aide who attempted to take the mic to give to another reporter while Acosta insisted on more questions.

A White House statement indicated that Acosta would lose unescorted access to the White House “until further notice” for “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”

“The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it’s an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women (the White House aide was female), who work in this administration,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the statement.

Here’s a video of the incident:

CNN defended Acosta’s actions while condemning Trump:

The White House was right to discipline Acosta.

Jim Acosta clearly, and rightly, believes part of his job is to hold the president accountable. White House reporters should challenge the president on inaccuracies and push him to explain significant or controversial decisions. The nation is well-served when reporters do this job well.

That doesn’t mean professionalism goes out the window. Reporters who cover the White House should also conduct themselves with some dignity and have respect for both for the office of the president (if not for the man himself), and respect for the proceedings.

Journalists who work with Acosta vouch for his skill and credentials as a journalist, and I’m not interested in attempting to contradict that. But I can evaluate the behavior in even the short clip above and point out that it would be considered unprofessional or unacceptable in press conference scenarios of far less stature than a presidential briefing.

  • He began the interaction seeking conflict, not information. Instead of leading with a question, Acosta began by lecturing Trump about how the migrant caravan was not an invasion. He wanted to argue his opinion.
  • When he finally did get to a question, he attempted to interrupt Trump during the answer.
  • After being given time for multiple questions in a full press conference with others waiting, he refused to yield the microphone as Trump tried to call on someone else.
  • Once he finally gave up the microphone, while another reporter was trying to ask a question, Acosta then stood up and began arguing with Trump again.

In almost any press conference setting, a reporter could justifiably have their credentials revoked for talking out of turn and physically refusing to yield the microphone.

Additionally, many journalistic outlets would discourage their reporters from using their time not for reporting purposes, but instead to argue personal differences with the interview subject.

I understand that CNN benefits from its position as Trump’s “enemy of the people,” but it’s unfortunate that Acosta’s version of holding the president accountable is so dependent upon this type of press conference performance art that neither creates accountability nor serves the audience by informing them.

Trump may be unusually and publicly disdainful of the press, but members of the press should not allow themselves to be dragged into needless bickering with him. If anything, that distraction leads to less accountability.

Acosta’s approach resulted in the story being about Acosta, not anything the Trump had to answer for about the migrant caravan or the Russia investigation. And that only serves Acosta, not the people who depend on him for the news.