The Trump administration has managed to do the improbable — make CNN’s Jim Acosta into a whiny, narcissistic Obi-Wan Kenobi of the White House press corps. If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine … After a contentious back-and-forth at yesterday’s presser, including a brief and unseemly tussle over a microphone, Trump scolded Acosta for his behavior. Rather than just leave it at that, they escalated matters by revoking Acosta’s “hard pass” to White House access, which provoked howls of “authoritarianism” from other media outlets.
In response, Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out this video and blasted Acosta for his “inappropriate behavior” with the staffer:
We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video. pic.twitter.com/T8X1Ng912y
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) November 8, 2018
Unfortunately for the White House, it didn’t take long for the media to discover the provenance of the video, which was edited to enhance the action:
But dozens of social media users, including several reporters and political analysts, said that the video Sanders shared zooms in on the moment of contact, and appears to have been sped up to make the moment appear more aggressive. …
Many also noted that the video was first shared by an account linked to InfoWars, the website of right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out this connection, asking: “Surely you don’t trust InfoWars…?”
Here’s the video produced at the time by Reuters (and republished by The Sun), at normal speed. It’s pretty clear what happened; the young woman was trying to retrieve the microphone three times. Twice she tried with her right hand but didn’t want to hit Acosta’s left arm, with which he was gesturing as he was talking. On her third try she used her left hand to grab the microphone, and her arm and Acosta’s bumped.
Even if one wants to argue that Acosta moved his arm deliberately, at worst he’s trying to screen off the aide so he can continue his remarks. It’s hardly a karate chop or an attempt to manhandle the aide, and it’s ridiculous to argue otherwise. She certainly didn’t have any problem taking the microphone from Acosta a few moments later.
Now the White House has created two problems. First, they made a martyr out of Acosta, whose antics up to that point probably didn’t please his colleagues in the room as he sucked up the limited amount of opportunities they had to ask questions. Second, Sanders has aggravated credibility issues with the media by using a doctored video to make a senseless claim of abuse.
Before that, at least some members of the media wondered whether Acosta should remain in the White House, given both his apparent personal hostility and his grandstanding. Michael Goodwin teed off on Acosta in a column written before Sanders’s tweet:
White House press credentials are not a universal right. There are implicit expectations of proper behavior, and the White House decision to suspend Acosta’s credential is warranted.
Just as Acosta can’t go into a movie theater and yell “Fire” when there is no fire, he should not have the right to hijack a presidential press conference to suit his own ego.
It is also long past time for his colleagues, including those from other outlets, to remind him that his shameful conduct is making all of them look bad. More important, scenes like Wednesday’s further erode the public’s already declining mistrust of the media and fuel resistance to the First Amendment.
The anti-Trump antics are no longer a sideshow. America has serious problems as well as dangerous enemies, and the mere prospect of Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell working together is the best news we could have hoped for Wednesday.
Instead, it was overshadowed by a few narcissists chasing their own vanity.
Now, however, the media will circle the wagons around Acosta much like Republicans circled wagons around Brett Kavanaugh after he was unfairly accused of assault. They won’t do it because they like Acosta or approve of his behavior, but because they know they might be the next target of a smear campaign. (Don’t expect the media to connect those dots, however.)
It would have been a lot easier to just freeze Acosta out. Sanders and Trump both call on reporters for questions, and there’s no rule that says CNN must get air time. Narcissists like Acosta need attention, so the proper way to deal with them is to not give it to them. Instead, Sanders and the Trump administration just made Acosta far more powerful by showering him not just with attention but with unprecedented attention, and damaging their own credibility along the way.
And what exactly is the end game here? At some point, they’ll have to make it even worse by allowing him back into the White House. His colleagues will hound Sanders incessantly on this point until they do. There’s no winning this war for Sanders and the White House, and there’s no losing it for Acosta and CNN. Whoever came up with this plan should be shown out the door ASAP.
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