NEW YORK—I don’t like it when newspapers or TV networks go whining to the courts.
And it’s for a very selfish reason.
The media in this country has the best deal on the planet:
Once we print something, or broadcast something, you can’t touch us. We don’t have any of those weird “government secrets” laws they have in England, or the hate-speech stuff they have in Germany (if you deny the Holocaust you can go to jail), much less the kind of byzantine press rules they have in repressive countries like Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia. Every time the government has tried to stop the media—the Pentagon Papers, the Progressive article about how to build a hydrogen bomb—the government has lost.
So the other end of that deal is that we don’t ask for help. We don’t ask the government to keep track of us and we don’t want the government to keep track of us. You don’t need a special ID card to be a member of the working press, as you do in other countries. You don’t need to be approved by some bureaucrat to start raising hell in print.
That’s why CNN should have just dropped it when the White House revoked Jim Acosta’s press pass. By literally making a federal case out of it, they encourage the idea that the press is governed by a set of rules that can be enforced by a judge.
I don’t want judges thinking they can make any rules about us!
I don’t even want judges thinking they can enforce “unwritten rules”—because that’s what it was in this case.
Obviously the White House can approve and deny press credentials. The press room is only so big. If you let everybody in, then you would have to give press passes to podcasters in East Lansing, Michigan, who have fifteen listeners per week. The White House gets to decide who gets in and who doesn’t. That’s the way it’s always been.
Everybody who’s ever worked for any media organization has been kicked out by someone or denied access by someone or been stonewalled by someone, usually for a sneaky reason. What do you do when that happens? You buck up and get the story some other way. You surround the stonewaller with aggressive reporting. You don’t file a frigging lawsuit to get your press pass back.
If Jim Acosta has a question he wants answered at a Donald Trump press conference, give the question to some other reporter. You might even get a better answer that way, because Trump hates Acosta so it’s better for the story if he doesn’t know who’s really asking. Surely CNN has more than one guy who can stand up in the press room and pitch a tough question at the prez.
This whole thing started when Acosta challenged Trump for using the word “invasion” to describe the migrants from Central America moving toward the southern border. Trump obviously didn’t like the question and thought Acosta was being a jerk. “Invasion” was a more or less typical Trump metaphor in that it was overblown and inaccurate, but his general meaning was fairly obvious.
It was during the follow-up questions, when Trump was trying to shut Acosta up and move on to the next reporter, that, according to the White House, Acosta abused an intern who was trying to get the microphone away from him. This is probably either a gross exaggeration or an outright lie. I don’t think the intern was harmed in any way.
But it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that the White House didn’t need to trump up the charge against Acosta by saying, “He laid hands on a staff member.” All they had to say was “He didn’t give up the microphone and we don’t like the way he acts in the press room.” Done. Press pass gone. By pushing the phony charge, they gave the press reason to portray them as hypocrites—and reason for the judge to think they had something to hide.
Now that this silly little scene has gone to a court and been settled via lawyers on both sides, the White House press office has a new set of rules. You can be kicked out if you fail to give up the microphone, if you ask more than one question, or if you fail to yield the floor when asked. This means the White House will decide whether you’re asking a follow-up, or trying to sneak in a second question, and if they decide you’re breaking the rules, you’ll be denied access.
So much for aggressive questioning.
Enjoy your legal victory. Now Jim Acosta can be snide and sarcastic all he wants, as though he’s performing for the cameras.
Oh, wait, yeah, I see, that was the whole point, wasn’t it?
It wasn’t about asking a question at all. It was about watching the question be asked. It was all about Jim’s close-up.