Trump on Acosta: If he misbehaves again, we'll throw him out

This guy shouldn’t annoy me as much as he does:

It’s true that he’s disruptive at press conferences, but if I’m being honest with myself it’s not his penchant for disruption — the ostensible reason for barring him from the White House — that truly grates. It’s the preening. He’s the living embodiment of the modern reality that the media finds nothing as interesting or important as the media itself. But we should all be more used to that by now, shouldn’t we?

Trump spoke to Chris Wallace after this morning’s ruling and focused on the due process consequences. We’re drafting new rules of conduct, he noted, one of which I’m guessing will be “No talking over other people” and another of which might be “Relinquish the mic when you’re asked.” Future violations will presumably be punished with exclusion from the White House, which might solve the due process problem next time. But what about the First Amendment problem? The court didn’t rule on the First Amendment arguments today but the precedent it relied on, the Sherrill case from 1977, was clear about it. You can’t take away a press pass that’s already been granted unless there’s a “compelling” reason to do so or else you’re infringing the freedom of the press. Whether he received due process or not is irrelevant. Acosta could break every one of Trump’s new rules and if he loses his pass he’ll go to court and argue that being obnoxious at the briefing simply doesn’t rise to the level of a “compelling” reason. The remedy for obnoxiousness isn’t exclusion from the premises, he’ll say, it’s the press secretary refusing to call on him. (Never mind that one of the recurring problems with Acosta is that he doesn’t wait to be called on sometimes before speaking. He interjects.) Only something on the order of a security risk would be “compelling” enough to justify a full ban.

And if the courts follow Sherrill, he’ll win. I hope someone has let Trump know that, so he doesn’t get too invested in these new rules as a cure-all for Acosta-itis. Or maybe he does know it and he’s counting on Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to deliver for him if/when this dispute goes all the way up to SCOTUS. He may be in for a disappointment there too. It occurred to me this morning after Trump-appointed Judge Timothy Kelly ruled in the Acosta matter how awkward this matter must have been for Kelly. He’s been on the bench for barely a year; he’s been placed in the middle of a spotlit dispute between the man who appointed him and his nemeses in the press; and the president famously expects “loyalty” from his legal nominees, a deficiency in Jeff Sessions that ultimately cost him his job. If Kelly had ruled for Trump he would have been torn to shreds by liberals for cronyism towards the president who made him a judge, never mind the legal merits of the matter. Kelly’s not supposed to let political considerations like that influence him and no doubt he diligently tried to put them out of mind. But judges are human beings too. His reputation would have been damaged if this had come out the other way and he must have known it.

Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are also human beings. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

I was half-expecting Trump to announce here that he’d be suspending all press briefings until further notice, pending CNN’s replacement of Acosta with a reporter less prone to grandstanding. It would have been like the drill sergeant ordering everyone in the platoon to do push-ups except the guy who’s guilty of the infraction. Clearly plenty of Acosta’s colleagues recognize the problem with him; penalizing them for his misbehavior might force that recognition a little more into the open. (Trump does say that he’ll leave an event if misbehavior by the press occurs, which is a variation on this strategy. The worse Acosta acts, the fewer chances other reporters will get to ask questions.) The problem with issuing CNN an ultimatum, though, is that they couldn’t possibly back down in the face of it, even having defeated Trump in court (for now). The apple/banana news outlet can’t let itself be seen as having been pushed around by The Bad Man!

The better strategy for Trump is to wait them out. As much as today looks like a “win” for them, there’s been plenty of chatter in the media lately about Acosta’s shortcomings. A week ago they had to grit their teeth and bear it when the Poynter Institute, a respected journalism school, published a piece titled “CNN’s Jim Acosta’s actions to Trump don’t represent the best of journalism.” They’ll end up taking him off this beat before much longer, I bet, and giving him his own “news” show a la Don Lemon, where his opinionated interjections will seem less out of place. The next CNN person to cover the White House will be much lower-key.

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