What the revocation of CNN’s Jim Acosta’s White House press pass means to journalists

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, had his press pass suspended “until further notice” on Wednesday night, November 7. Acosta had been questioning President Trump concerning the approaching caravan of migrants as well as the Russia investigation when Trump told the reporter to sit down and called him a “terrible person.”

An unedited link from CSPAN of Acosta’s questioning the President can be found here.

Sometime later, Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, released a statement announcing that Acosta was being stripped of his press pass, which allows him access into White House grounds. Sanders also tweeted, “We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video.”

The “inappropriate behavior” the Press Secretary referred to in the tweet was Acosta’s alleged slapping of a White House intern’s arm as she took the microphone from him during the briefing. Sanders posted, along with her tweet, a 15-second video which shows Acosta supposedly pushing away the intern’s arm quite forcibly, with that particular portion repeated several times, as though to prove her point.

Some media outfits are calling the video in Sanders’ tweet as “altered” and “doctored,” including the Washington Post, which featured a side-by-side video of the original clip and the video that Sanders shared, in full speed, and at 50 percent and then 20 percent speed.

The Washington Post further reports, “Critics said that video — which sped up the movement of Acosta’s arms in a way that dramatically changed the journalist’s response — was deceptively edited to score political points. That edited video was first shared by Paul Joseph Watson, known for his conspiracy-theory videos on the far-right website Infowars”. Watson denied allegations that he altered the video.

CNN, in turn, released a statement voicing the network’s full support of Acosta, saying that his suspension “was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today’s press conference. In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support.”

Other journalists expressed their dismay at Acosta’s suspension. Peter Baker, the New York Times’ chief White House correspondent tweeted, “If this is a decision by the White House because it doesn’t like the coverage, it’s the first time I can remember this happening to any reporter since I started covering the White House more than 22 years ago. Very bad sign.”

According to Maggie Haberman, also from the NYT, “the White House has now unilaterally decided a reporter they don’t like can’t come into a government building while sending around a misleading video about him, because it will please Trump.”

Baker earlier tweeted, “Trump @PressSec confirms that White House has suspended the hard pass of a reporter because it doesn’t like the way he does his job. This is something I’ve never seen since I started covering the White House in 1996. Other presidents did not fear tough questioning.”

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the suspension of Acosta’s White House pass is that seemingly manipulated evidence can be used as an excuse for denying access to the kind of vigorous questioning that a chief executive should be unafraid to subject himself to.

Another disturbing aspect to the story is the eagerness with which people seemed to embrace the slowed-down video, and accept it as an excuse for Acosta’s suspension.

However way one looks at it, the effects are sure to be chilling, as one can imagine that journalists phrasing questions with ever-increasing cautiousness lest their credentials are removed as well.

At a time when President Trump, and indeed the rest of the world, could well use vigorous discourse, the White House actions, which may imply that the President can pick and choose at will who has access to asking him questions, send a troubling message indeed to journalists everywhere.

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