Few reporters have been at the center of more high-profile spats with the Trump White House than CNN’s Jim Acosta. A veteran TV newsman with salt-and-pepper hair and a concerned-dad demeanor, Acosta has spent the past four years picking fights with Trump flacks in the briefing room. Once, he walked out of a press conference after then–Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to say reporters weren’t enemies of the people; on another occasion, the White House temporarily revoked his press credentials. Detractors have accused Acosta—who published a book in 2019 titled The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America—of showboating. But he insists that his on-air indignation has always been genuine. “You can’t just go and trash the press and totally lie to the American people and tell them real news is fake news,” Acosta told me. “I couldn’t stomach it.”
The drama has made him famous, but Acosta said he doesn’t expect to bring the same crusading style to his coverage of the next administration. “I don’t think the press should be trying to whip up the Biden presidency and turn it into must-see TV in a contrived way,” he said.
If that sounds like a double standard, Acosta told me it’s not partisan—it’s a matter of professional solidarity. In his view, Trump’s campaign to discredit the press has constituted a “nonstop national emergency,” one that required a defiant response. “If being at the White House is not an experience that might merit hazard pay,” he said, “then perhaps it is going to be approached differently.”