CNN v. Trump

In response to yet another controversial and unprecedented action taken by President Trump, cable news organization CNN has filed a lawsuit against the president, as well as some members of his administration, for revoking White House Correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass to The White House. Updated: Friday, 11:23 a.m.

The opening of the 18-page lawsuit reads:

“…on November 7, 2018, Defendants revoked Acosta’s White House credentials because, in the President’s own words, Acosta failed to ‘treat the White House with respect’ at a White House press briefing. This severe and unprecedented punishment is the culmination of years of hostility by President Trump against CNN and Acosta based on the contents of their reporting—an unabashed attempt to censor the press and exclude reporters from the White House who challenge and dispute the President’s point of view.  

“While CNN and Acosta have been favorite targets of abuse by the administration, the President’s criticism has been directed at other news organizations too. The President has actively criticized and discredited any journalist or media outlet he believes might report something he considers negative. As the President explained to Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.’ ”

“We have just been advised,” a White House statement said, “that CNN has filed a compliant challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta’s hard pass. This is just more grandstanding from CNN and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”

In response to White House actions against Acosta, several media organizations, including Fox News, stepped forward to publicly condemn the move.

“Fox News supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter’s press credential. We intend to file an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court. Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized. While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people,” Fox News President Jay Wallace said in a statement.

As of this writing, 16 organizations have come forward in support of Acosta, among them: The Associated Press, Bloomberg, First Look Media, Gannett, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico, USA Today, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Press Freedom Defense Fund, and the E.W. Scripps Company.

The Washington Examiner, a conservative newspaper, reports a Wall Street Journal statement of support along with their own:

“The Wall Street Journal finds it troubling that CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House ‘hard pass’ was revoked. We believe that decision should be reversed and support efforts to restore Mr. Acosta’s full access,” the newspaper said in a statement. “The Journal remains committed to the exercise of free speech rights promised by the First Amendment and to reporters’ ability to question elected officials.”

Both legal scholars and media experts point out that what’s at stake is not just correspondent Acosta. If Trump succeeds in this lawsuit, any White House reporter could have their press credentials revoked if the President deems their questions hostile or otherwise inappropriate. In fact, shortly after the Acosta incident, Trump said “it could be others also,” a quote which is referenced in the lawsuit. And we have already witnessed ample evidence.

USA Today writes (Nov. 9), “Trump… singled out April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks as another potential target.

“ ‘She’s very nasty, and she shouldn’t be,’ Trump said.

“Ryan, one of the relatively few African-American women covering the White House, has frequently criticized Trump’s attempted crackdowns on the press.

Trump also criticized two other African-American reporters, CNN’s Abby Philip and PBS NewsHour’s White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

Following the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general after the departure of Jeff Sessions, Philip asked Trump if he wants Whitaker “to rein in Robert Mueller?”

Trump’s response: “What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot and you ask a lot of stupid questions.”

At the same press conference where the Acosta incident took place, Alcindor asked, “On the campaign trail you called yourself a Nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening White Nationalists.”

“That’s such a racist question,” Trump said, cutting her off, then repeats “racist” two more times.

Sarah Glover, president of The National Association of Black Journalists called Trump’s remarks against the reporters “appalling and irresponsible. They should be denounced.”

Olivier Knox, the president of the White House Correspondents’, said in a statement:

“The White House Correspondents’ Association strongly supports CNN’s goal … Revoking access to the White House complex amounted to disproportionate reaction to the events of last Wednesday. We continue to urge the Administration to reverse course and fully reinstate CNN’s correspondent.

“The President of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him.”

CNN requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction pending litigation. Judge Timothy J. Kelly has said he will rule on the appeal by 10 a.m. today.

No matter what decision is made, however, this is just the first round of case with major consequences for both The White House and the media. As I said in June, “While we might not always like the hard truth, without it, democracy will pay a heavy price.”

Buckle up; it’s going to get rough.

UPDATE: Federal District Judge Timothy J. Kelly ruled that Acosta’s due process rights were violated when the White House revoked his press pass and ordered that the White House reinstate his access.

“I want to emphasize the very limited nature of this ruling,” Kelly said. “I have not determined that the First Amendment was violated here,” The New York Times reported (Nov. 16).

The case continues to be litigated.

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