In part three of my series on the White House’s attacks on the free press this past week, I will discuss my support of solidarity from the press corps moving forward as well as what legal actions are being taken to stand up to Trump. (Check out parts one and two to get caught up.)
My inspiration to end the series here came from a comment from a Danish Facebook friend under my post about the press conference. He said, “In Denmark[,] reporters from other media would be ousted from the group of accepted reporters if they did this. Even if you don’t agree with a question you will defend other reporters right to ask any question (coming from an old political reporter[.])”
I too have often wondered why other reporters allow Trump to metaphorically sh*t on a reporter, one of their own, and then ask their own questions as if nothing happened. Surely this sets a precedent that Trump can do whatever he wants, no? It certainly seems that way, seeing that nearly two years into his presidency he is just flat out calling reporters “rude” and “terrible.”
In theory, Trump treats “the media” as the enemy. But in practice, he does not go after the media like an opposing army – because they do not act like one. They may face him as one press corps, but they act as individual soldiers representing their outlets which has allowed Trump to pick them off one by one. He has kicked Acosta off the battle ground entirely, and continues to attack journalists, particularly of late black female journalists.
Therefore, their only course of action is to stand together.
In a piece the New York Times ran on Sunday, columnist Jim Rutenberg wrote, “Reporters could stage a group protest. But that would make them look like they’re at war with the president, just as he always says they are.” I would counter with the notion that Trump always says they are, because they are, and maybe it is time to go to war. Not by attacking Trump, but by starving him of the attention he craves. The media has provided him with a punching bag, and he loves punching it. And when it is one reporter at a time, it is easy for him to make contact. But if the press corps were to stand together against him, that punching bag could become a concrete wall. If they don’t, he may end up with bigger gloves.
“The press,” as in the freedom of the press, does not apply to just one outlet. If it is denied to one, it goes away entirely. Other reporters should care about this. And if they do, they should do something about it. If they do not, they are setting precedent for the treatment of the press corps and the dismantling of the free press as we know it and as it is needed.
As far as legal recourse, CNN filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the White House on Tuesday morning. The lawsuit cites the First and Fifth Amendments and seeks Acosta’s immediate restoration of his credentials. The First Amendment violations are apparent in the case – they have restricted his freedom of the press. However, they also claim that his Fifth Amendment rights have been violated by not allowing him due process. Renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams explained, “you have to have notice, you have to have a chance to respond, and you have to have a written opinion by the White House as to what it’s doing and why, so the courts can examine it.”
This was not Acosta’s case. He was met at the gate to the White House by a Secret Service officer and was not only barred from entering, but required to give up his “hard pass.” He was not given an explanation or a chance to respond, therefore he was not granted due process.
The White House has already responded to the lawsuit with the following:
“We have been advised that CNN has filed a complaint challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta’s hard pass. This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit.” Sanders cited Acosta’s behavior and that it was in fact the White House that was attempting to preserve the press room.
The White House Correspondents Association put out the following statement:
— WHCA (@whca) November 13, 2018
CNN is seeking a preliminary hearing as soon as possible, and they have the legal precedent to win. But perhaps more interesting is the precedent it may set. If CNN wins, the White House will have a harder time manipulating press briefings and conferences. However, if somehow the White House wins, freedom of the press is in mortal danger.
It is the duty of the courts, as well as the duty of the (as of now) free press and the duty of the public to loudly and repeatedly defend Jim Acosta, even if they don’t agree with him or CNN. The network stated on Tuesday, “While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone. If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
I wait with bated breath to see what happens at future press briefings and conferences as well as this lawsuit with the perspective of both a journalism student with a potential career in political reporting and just a concerned citizen. I stand with Jim Acosta, and I urge you to as well.