Today I am continuing my examination of the events of last Wednesday between the president and the press corps and how they relate to the First Amendment. Specifically, I am discussing the aftermath of CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s exchange with President Trump – and the severe unconstitutionality of the White House’s actions in retaliation.
Several hours after Trump’s outlandish press conference, Jim Acosta attempted to enter the White House for his 8 p.m. “hit.” However, upon trying to enter the grounds, Secret Service stopped him and demanded he hand over his “hard pass,” or physical proof of his press credentials. Acosta showed the utmost respect for the Secret Service officer, understanding he was just doing his job, but quickly took to Twitter to update the public on the situation:
I’ve just been denied entrance to the WH. Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) November 8, 2018
Just two minutes after this tweet was posted, Press Secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders took to her official Press Secretary Twitter account to tweet a thread explaining that his credentials were revoked because the White House, “will never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”
After this thread, she further defended the decision by tweeting this video clip from the press conference:
We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video. pic.twitter.com/T8X1Ng912y
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) November 8, 2018
But it was quickly discovered that the clip Sanders chose to tweet was not the original footage, and had been doctored. The Washington Post released this side-by-side of Sanders’ clip versus the C-SPAN clip, and it clearly shows frames missing and other parts sped up to make it look like a karate chop rather than her entering his personal space.
(Since then counselor and spokesperson Kellyanne Conway admitted the video was sped up, but says that does not mean it was doctored. “They do it all the time in sports,” she said. In fact, they slow clips down, but sure, Kellyanne.)
The White House claimed this was the reason for barring Acosta from the White House, but if they need to use doctored footage to back it up, this was clearly not their motive. This was retaliation for Acosta’s pressuring questions at the press conference. And because his press credentials were revoked so that he could not do his job as a journalist, this is a clear violation of the First Amendment.
I wrote about this a bit in a past blog post regarding it was against the First Amendment for Trump to deny answering a question at a press conference, and I decided that it was based on past precedent. Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that this is unconstitutional. A press conference can be considered a limited forum, and therefore Justice Thurgood Marshall’s words from Police Department v. Mosley (1972) apply. “The government may not grant the use of a forum to people it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.” But the government just did. So where does that leave the free press now?
In the past when Trump has barred journalists from press briefings or covering events, he has succeeded to merely backlash from the outlets but no clear action has been taken. So far, several journalists and outlets, including the White House Correspondents Association, have tweeted their condemnation of the decision:
Tonight the White House revoked @Acosta’s press pass. CNN’s response to @PressSec and @realDonaldTrump: pic.twitter.com/EY2iFLvP3P
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) November 8, 2018
WHCA statement on White House decision on credentials. pic.twitter.com/bukK7CGu2G
— WHCA (@whca) November 8, 2018
News the White House pulled Jim @Acosta’s credentials is not an attack on one journalist but all of the press. There should be complete solidarity. This is a moment for any Republican who says they believe in the Constitution to stand up.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) November 8, 2018
I watched what happened with @Acosta happen in real time yesterday, and that video is altered. Every reporter who has any shred of dignity should boycott covering the WH until you are all allowed in freely and equally. If you don’t stand up for one another, you will be next.
— Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) November 8, 2018
Handler and Rather are not the only ones to call for solidarity, particularly after Friday’s semi-press conference by Trump’s helicopter where he stated “there could be others” with their credentials revoked if they are “not respectful.” CNN anchor Jake Tapper responded, saying:
Exactly. Everyone in that room has now officially been put on notice. @whca https://t.co/xo4ZK9JDsu
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 9, 2018
There have been no briefings or press conferences since Friday, (although Acosta did go to France to cover Trump’s visit) so it is unclear whether the press corps will stand in solidarity with Acosta, however based on the Friday “press conference” it seems unlikely. That being said, in my third and final part in this series, I will discuss why solidarity is crucial, and what other steps are being taken, (between writing this and hitting publish, CNN announced a lawsuit against the White House which I will discuss in part three,) and should be taken, to preserve the freedom of the press as we know it.