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CNN sues White House to regain Jim Acosta’s press credentials

Originally posted Tuesday, November 13, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Atlanta-based CNN Tuesday sued the Trump administration to reinstate Jim Acosta’s press credentials to the White House.

Read the lawsuit here. 

The White House suspended Acosta, the chief White House correspondent for CNN since January, after a contentious exchange last week between him and Trump.

When an unnamed presidential aide tried to take the microphone from Acosta, he resisted. The White House said they pulled his “hard pass” because of the altercation. The pass gives him daily access to the White House, Air Force One and secured areas during presidential trips. 

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CNN in the lawsuit said this was a “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.”

The lawsuit also noted that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out a video that appeared to show Acosta “karate chop” the aide’s arm but in fact, the video had been edited to make it seem more aggressive than it was.

CNN alleges in the lawsuit that “the content and viewpoint of CNN’s and Acosta’s reporting on the Trump administration—not his interaction with the staffer at the November 7 press conference—were the real reason the White House indefinitely revoked his press credentials.”

CNN cited First (free speech) and Fifth Amendment (due process) grounds. 

Richard Griffiths, president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said he’s happy to see CNN take a stand. 

“I hope they prevail in court,” said Griffiths, who worked at CNN from 1991 to 2017. “The freedom of the press means open government. Open government is key to understanding our government. Accountability journalism is a big part of that.”

“You cannot selectively choose who covers you,” he added. “That’s a basic tenet of free, independent journalism.” 

Andrew Napolitano, a judicial analyst for Fox News, said CNN could win the case. 

“Obviously Acosta may have been an irritant to the president, but he was hardly a danger to him,” said Napolotiano on Stuart Varney’s Fox Business Network show “Varney & Co.” Tuesday. “So I think CNN’s got a very good case. I think this will be resolved quickly. I don't expect a jury trial. I think it will either be settled or CNN will prevail on motion.”

Acosta joined CNN in 2007 as a national correspondent and in 2012 became a senior White House correspondent. He is known for aggressive questioning of the president and critics consider him a grandstander. 

Indeed, the word “grandstanding” pops up below in the White House’s response to the lawsuit:

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

CNN, who has nearly 50 additional hard pass holders, and Mr. Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment. After Mr. Acosta asked the President two questions—each of which the President answered—he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters.

The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional. The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor. If there is no check on this type of behavior it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff, and members of the media to conduct business

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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