Via Mediaite, good thing it’s Friday and I started drinking early, before I saw this.
I offer the clip to you not as an easy opportunity to goof on the panelists, although it is that, but as an insight into how the average person is likely to process this morning’s news. All the court’s ruling said was that the White House owed Acosta some due process before terminating his press pass, i.e. written notice and an opportunity to respond. The judge didn’t squarely reach the First Amendment issue of whether a reporter can be excluded on the president’s order, although it’s safe to say that he’s on CNN’s side of that given the precedent he used in making his decision. Either way, total victory for Acosta in this case would simply mean that he’ll continue to access the White House grounds. It doesn’t mean he gets to ask questions, it doesn’t mean Trump or Sanders have to answer his questions, it doesn’t mean they have to hold press briefings at all. In fact, White House reporters have been complaining for months that briefings are increasingly few and far between, with weeks sometimes passing before they get a glimpse of Sanders.
All of which is perfectly fine as a constitutional matter. Trump could respond to today’s ruling by canceling the briefings entirely and declining to do any more informal Q&As with reporters and there’d be no legal recourse for them. Or (and this is more likely) he could resolve to issue no new press passes to the media for the duration of his presidency. After all, if he has to go to court every time he wants to exclude someone whom he’s allowed in, the obvious solution is to be more selective about allowing people in. That is to say, both for Acosta himself and for the press writ large, the result of today’s ruling is likely to be less accountability from the president, not more. No more questions for Acosta, fewer questions for everyone else, possibly no new press passes issued for the next two or six years. CNN could have avoided all that if they had taken Acosta off the beat long ago and replaced him with someone less interested in self-promotion. Even if Trump had ended up trying to take that person’s press pass away for asking tough questions, that would have been a higher hill to fight on than the one they currently occupy, which is essentially about nothing grander than Acosta’s right to interrupt his colleagues.
A few CNN reporters told me that they’re embarrassed by Acosta & CNN. A WH correspondent from a major network (not Fox) told me “This isn’t the Jim F*ing Acosta Show. We all hate him. He’s an asshole and he actually is disrespectful to the president.”
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) November 13, 2018
And yet, to hear Abby Huntsman and Ana Navarro and Whoopi tell it, today is a glorious victory for free speech. “The First Amendment is alive and well now,” says Huntsman at one point. (Again, the judge didn’t rule on the First Amendment issue.) If Trump had won, she wonders, “How many passes could you take away from people? Where does it end?” Uh, it would end with the cable news networks lambasting him night and day until he reversed course. Fox News too: They supported CNN in Acosta’s suit, remember, knowing that a loss for CNN now would mean Fox being frozen out under the next Democratic administration. Consider that every time Trump and Sanders decide not to hold a press briefing, which is often, it amounts to canceling everyone’s press pass (or at least nullifying the purpose of a press pass) for that day — and yet the world continues to turn, White House reporters continue to file stories about what their sources are hearing, CNN continues to criticize Trump, etc. I think the way the average person will understand today’s ruling, though, with the full encouragement of media types like “The View,” is that if Acosta had lost then somehow he wouldn’t have been allowed to report on the Trump administration anymore, period. Preposterous. If they wanted to, CNN could carry the live feed of the press briefing and have Acosta comment in real time in their booth, like a play-by-play announcer covering a game. He’d be free to report as much as he wants, just not from the White House grounds. But given the state of civic education in this country, good luck explaining that to people, particularly people who hate Trump to begin with and are eager to believe the worst.
The best part here, by the way, is Ana Navarro performing her contractual duties as a Republican-hating Republican by somehow turning today’s ruling (by a Trump appointee, no less) into a lament about how the GOP won’t hold Trump accountable. She celebrates checks and balances too, although it’s unclear if she means that the press was a check on Trump in this matter or if the judiciary was. If the latter, fine. If the former, then I reiterate: There will be less accountability by the president to the White House press corps after today than there was before, and certainly less accountability by the president to Jim Acosta personally. Trump said this afternoon in responding to the ruling that his team will be drafting new rules for conduct (which will help solve the due process problem next time) and that Sanders and others are under instructions to leave if they’re taking questions and reporters aren’t behaving. If the media wants to risk an outcome in which fewer questions are asked and answered going forward in the name of defending someone’s press pass, they should have at least waited until Trump moved against a real journalist to make their stand.
Exit quotation from Andrew Egger, recognizing the real winner today: “Acosta’s tedious furrowed-brow posturing and spotlight-hogging and his fixation on Trump’s meanness to the press are all catnip to a president who loves nothing more than to tell his fans that that’s what journalists are all about.”