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Jim Acosta is No Martyr to Journalism

The events that led on Wednesday to the White House barring CNN correspondent Jim Acosta are a sad commentary on our national dialogue. The tense exchange between President Trump and Acosta is difficult and embarrassing to watch [1]—not because the video has been “doctored [2]” as some are now claiming [3] but because both men demonstrate utter contempt and disrespect for their respective roles as they shamelessly peacock for ratings. You can almost feel the republic devolving to its lowest common denominator: narcissists preening before the cameras and beating their chests in self-righteous fury.

That’s not how the media portrayed the event, of course. “Freedom of the press is under assault,” CBS agonized. CNN declared that the White House’s justification for removing Acosta’s access was a “lie [4].” Other journalists speculated that Acosta losing his “hard pass” access to the White House was “unprecedented [5],” somehow forgetting Obama’s war with Fox News [6] that included spying “extensively on Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010, collecting his telephone records, tracking his movements in and out of the State Department and seizing two days of Rosen’s personal emails,” according [7] to a Department of Justice report.

By the end of the day, the media had canonized Acosta as a martyr to True Journalism™. But is he?

Acosta asked very few actual questions during his exchange with Trump. This is typical. Back in August 2018, for instance, the New York Times noted [8] that “Jim Acosta, the square-jawed CNN correspondent, has stood out among the White House press corps for his impassioned on-air monologues about the importance of the First Amendment” and that “Acosta [broke] from the usual sober style of White House reporters [by framing] his question to [White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders as a moral choice.”


The Times reported on one exchange he had with Sanders:

“It would be a good thing if you were to state right here, at this briefing, that the press—the people who are gathered in this room right now, doing their jobs every day, asking questions of officials like the ones you brought forward earlier—are not the enemy of the people,” Mr. Acosta said in his newscaster’s baritone. “I think we deserve that.”

Ms. Sanders deflected—and then mirrored Mr. Acosta’s tone.

“It’s ironic, Jim,” she said, “that not only you and the media attack the president for his rhetoric, when they frequently lower the level of conversation in this country.”

The New York Times also noted that Acosta’s monologues have led “some of his rival White House reporters” to roll their eyes. Why might other journalists in the room react that way, and why did Fox News’s Chris Wallace say that Acosta had “embarrassed himself [9]” on Wednesday?

Because the White House briefing room isn’t the appropriate place to deliver commentary in the form of questions. Furthermore, during his press conferences, the president has a right to tell a reporter that his turn is up and that he is moving on to another person. Other outlets and reporters in the room deserve opportunities to ask their questions too. A press briefing is not a one-on-one interview, nor is it the place to issue snide putdowns and characterizations of the president’s positions.

More importantly, self-aggrandizing harangues that turn the reporter into the story are not a legitimate form of journalism. As the Society of Professional Journalists warns, [10] “injecting oneself into the story or creating news events for coverage is not objective reporting, and it ultimately calls into question the ability of a journalist to be independent, which can damage credibility.”

None of this means that the White House is justified in removing Acosta’s pass. What it does mean is that Acosta isn’t even a practitioner of true journalism, let alone a martyr to its cause. For CNN to have a martyr, the network would need to send someone who acts like a journalist.

Wednesday’s performance was never about journalism, and the first clue to that is how few questions Acosta actually asks. He started off his exchange with the president by saying that he will “challenge” Trump on his description of the migrant caravan.

Even as Acosta is muttering these words, Trump begins to mock him: “Oh here we go. Come on, let’s go.”

Another clue is when Trump says this: “You know what, I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN, and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”

It’s a dead-giveaway: each man is playing to his audience. If there is one thing that Trump knows well, it’s how to get ratings, a fact that CBS Chairman Les Moonves once testified to [11] when he said that “it may not be good for America” but Trump is “damn good” at getting viewers.

CNN watchers want to see Trump taken to task. Just as ravenously, Trump supporters want the president to take the media to the mat. They love nothing better than seeing him combat what they perceive to be sneering media elites. Every time Trump engages pugnaciously with a reporter, he throws red meat to his base.

For its part, CNN probably got the views it was looking for thanks to this incident. But the network should tread carefully. Every time a member of the media behaves like Acosta, they’re not only damaging the media’s credibility; they’re playing into Trump’s hands.

Barbara Boland is the former weekend editor of the Washington Examiner. Her work has been featured on Fox News, the Drudge Report, HotAir.com, RealClearDefense, RealClearPolitics, and elsewhere. She’s the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General Patton in World War II. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC [12].

39 Comments (Open | Close)

39 Comments To "Jim Acosta is No Martyr to Journalism"

#1 Comment By Collin On November 9, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

Of course he is not Martyr of the press.

And the Trump Administration is throwing another stupid tanturm using Infowar videos. This is the reason why Progressive listen to serious conservatives because of that crap.

#2 Comment By Wilfred On November 9, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

Unfortunate episodes like this could be avoided if, at press conferences, questioners were required to stand on trap doors. A triggering button on the President’s podium would insure that questioners remained courteous.

#3 Comment By Louism On November 9, 2018 @ 4:36 pm

Jim Accosta is the epitome of the leftist media and the radical Hillary left who consider Trump unworthy and unjustly president. It is self evident in the way they treat trump and his administration and his Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee.

I continue to think that this uncivility is different this time around. I continue to see people on the right that are just very simply unwilling to the treatment and the antics of the left.

I fully support Trump is banning Accosta and wish that he would ban more press credentials until the meeting has the professionalism worthy of a Presidential Press briefing.

#4 Comment By WorkingClass On November 9, 2018 @ 5:36 pm

Nobody watches CNN that doesn’t already hate Trump. CNN does Trump more good than harm.

And the notion that Acosta is a journalist is risible. Larry King says “CNN stopped doing news a long time ago”. Acosta isn’t even a propagandist. He is merely a troll.

#5 Comment By William Dalton On November 9, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

I enthusiastically endorse everything you say in this commentary. However, I don’t understand why you write, “None of this means that the White House is justified in removing Acosta’s pass.” It is clear from what you recount above that Acosta has a long record of abusing his license to stand and ask questions of the President when he never actually does that. Certainly his press credentials should be suspended, if not completely revoked.

#6 Comment By Mark Krvavica On November 9, 2018 @ 7:34 pm

I want to tell Acosta that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to him, Trump is a embarrassment too. I don’t wish them well.

#7 Comment By Ken T On November 9, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

not because the video has been “doctored” as some are now claiming

No, Ms. Boland. “Some” are not “claiming” that the video was doctored. It is a proven fact. You can watch it yourself – the version sent out by the White House side by side with the original that was aired as it happened. They are clearly different. Several professional video editors have examined the two videos frame by frame and showed very clearly and specifically which frames were doctored and how. Your lame attempt to ignore what has already been proven in order to justify your bothsiderism makes the rest of what you write worthless.

#8 Comment By Lee Green On November 9, 2018 @ 10:46 pm

Translation: Acosta aggressively questioned a president who is a thin-skinned bully, the epitome of “dishes it out but can’t take it.” The First Amendment doesn’t just apply to people who ask questions you like, or ask (or even rant) in ways you like. A president who openly incites his followers to violence has precious little standing to complain about criticism. Snowflake indeed.

#9 Comment By Mr. Jones On November 10, 2018 @ 4:54 am

A contributor to The Drudge Report does a hit piece on Acosta? Come on, TAC.

#10 Comment By Argon On November 10, 2018 @ 8:06 am

Some TAC writer clearly hasn’t watched the British Press and seen how hard they try to push through a politician’s BS response…

#11 Comment By Marie in Vermont On November 10, 2018 @ 9:04 am

Dear Wilfred,

Thanks for starting my day off with a good, hearty laugh. I needed that.

#12 Comment By Ken T On November 10, 2018 @ 9:51 am

Lee Green –
You hit the nail on the head. Trump is the ultimate thumb-sucking, “safe-space”-needing snowflake. I imagine that the only reason he doesn’t keep an “emotional support animal” with him is that he is afraid the animal would get more attention than him.

#13 Comment By polistra On November 10, 2018 @ 10:16 am

Other journalists have rolled their eyes?

That’s an extraordinary claim requiring at least a BIT of evidence. All observable evidence shows that all journalists are 100% devoted to exterminating all Deplorables.

If you know of an actual exception, you should quote it by name.

#14 Comment By Brian On November 10, 2018 @ 10:31 am

If journalistic integrity is really the issue here, then we should be hearing just as much about Sean Hannity as Acosta. But that has never been what the attacks on the media have been about.

#15 Comment By Demoavenger On November 10, 2018 @ 11:05 am

Trump created this animosity by calling the constitutionally protected free press “enemies of the people. I don’t blame the media for fighting back.

#16 Comment By Lenny On November 10, 2018 @ 11:14 am

I would like to see your opinion , next time around a Democratic President removes the access of Fox news .

Obama complained a lot about Fox news, but not once did he call them the enemy of the people

So much for the party of constitution lovers blah blah blah

The 1st amendment does not apply to the press, the only non government entity listed in the “Constitution”
The POTUS suddenly can appoint primary offices without congressional approval
the POTUS now can rewrite the 14th amendment by FIAT

Will you be supportive of such precedents , if the next Democratic President decides to reinterpret the 2nd amendment?

Keep it up butter cup. You obviously have learned nothing from Tuesday

#17 Comment By citoyen On November 10, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

Jim Acosta is the poster child of the unhinged liberal. He should’ve been thrown out of the WH long ago.

#18 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On November 10, 2018 @ 12:36 pm

“Acosta aggressively questioned a president”

Acosta doesn’t ask questions so much as he pontificates. As such, he is not a reporter but a performer. Then again, since this thing of ours has deteriorated to the level of professional wrestling, guys like Acosta and Trump are made for each other.

#19 Comment By MM On November 10, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

At the same time Acosta is whining about losing his seat in a 49-person briefing room for editorializing instead of reporting (not the first time), Broward County election officials have banned cameras and media access, and threatened to have reporters arrested who were attempting to observe ballots being counted in Florida.


#20 Comment By A Russian On November 10, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

Dear editors of The American Conservative:

While I don’t care enough about this situation to accurately comment on the veracity or otherwise of Ms. Boland’s piece, it clearly appears that enough of your readers do, as evidenced by the number of other responses, which substantially exceeds those that accompany Larison’s principled and moral reporting on what Saudi coalition is doing to Yemen, to my great dismay.

Nevertheless, I would humbly suggest that this matter is practically the quintessence of partisan churn, and of producing more heat than light. I strongly doubt anyone will remember this even by 2020; the chances of this episode making to any history book (assuming those will still exist) are practically nil.

In contrast, the newly elected Republican Senators all have the potential for a decades-long influence on the public policy and the future of the American state, and those affected by its foreign policy. Same goes for Dem Jacky Rosen who just defeated Heller, and for a few of more notable new Dem arrivals to the House as well. Even some more retrospectives on the parting members and failed bids may be more illuminating in the long run.

I appreciate the several long-view retrospectives on those results you wrote, as well as the analysis of Ocasio-Cortez and DeSantis’ views on Israel and the retrospective on Sanford-Arrington House race, but I believe the discourse here will benefit from more such analysis, and I would humbly request the editors to focus on those.

In particular, I would really appreciate the thoughtful conservative perspective on newly elected Senator Marsha Blackburn, and her decision to open her response with a spirited defence of The Second Amendment.


#21 Comment By JKS On November 10, 2018 @ 7:15 pm

Oh heavens! What would we ever do without the sanctimonious national press to tell us what is good for America and what’s not! Too bad they didn’t tell us that NAFTA was bad for America before they shipped off every decent job from Seattle to Atlanta. But at least they’re here to remind us every 30 seconds or so that Trump is bad for America.

#22 Comment By BobS On November 10, 2018 @ 7:39 pm

Reportedly, “bad weather” kept Trump from making the 50 mile trip to the Aisne Marne American Cemetery, for remembrance activities marking the (WWI) Battle of Belleau Wood. Among the western leaders who didn’t let the “bad weather” scare them away were Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel, and Emmanuel Macron.
I can remember when the United States was led by someone who wasn’t afraid of what the wind and rain would do to his hair.
Acosta was right to dis the execrable piece of human detritus. Hopefully other reporters will pick up the slack in his absence.

#23 Comment By MM On November 10, 2018 @ 9:49 pm

Lenny: “Obama complained a lot about Fox news, but not once did he call them the enemy of the people.”

No, he just had his DOJ spy on them, and attempt to prosecute one of them for not revealing his sources.

Since you invoked the former President as an example of sterling Constitutional character, Lenny, would you like to defend that?

So much for moral consistency, not that someone like you ever had any…

#24 Comment By Bob K. On November 10, 2018 @ 10:39 pm

No, they did not “shamelessly peacock for ratings.”

They genuinely dislike each other.

#25 Comment By cj On November 11, 2018 @ 8:42 am

Just ban everybody but Faux News. They’ll throw softballs that our intellectually stunted president will hit out of the park and everybody will be happy!

#26 Comment By Wilfred On November 11, 2018 @ 9:05 am

To “A Russian”:
Mr Larison has fewer Comments because he approves fewer, especially if you dare disagree with him, even slightly.

And your writing makes me suspect you are not really Russian. Maybe by ancestry, but not someone who exclusively spoke Russian in childhood. “Thy speech bewrayeth thee”.

#27 Comment By McGraph On November 11, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

Other commenters have pointed out that you’ve missed an important point: the White House justified pulling the pass by saying that Acosta put his hands on a staffer. They backed this up with a doctored video. All of that is a lie, and lies matter. I don’t think you’ve lied, but you should post a correction.

#28 Comment By JohnT On November 12, 2018 @ 8:25 am

A journalist asked a well documented pathological liar a question expecting a truthful answer. First trip off the rails. The utterly predictable response from the pathological liar leads to a heated exchange of words followed by a lackey physically assaulting the reporter in hopes of gaining further admiration from the pathological liar. Second trip off the rails.
That’s what happened. But, hey, when propaganda sells…well propaganda it is!

#29 Comment By BobS On November 12, 2018 @ 11:27 am

“Too bad they didn’t tell us that NAFTA was bad for America before they shipped off every decent job from Seattle to Atlanta.”
Contemporaneous reporting (in the early 90’s) on NAFTA was pretty extensive- a lot of space was given to advocates and detractors before Clinton signed the bill that was voted for by most of the Republicans in Congress, and against by most of the Democrats.
It’s not the fault of the press that you weren’t paying closer attention at the time. However, your 20-20 hindsight is appreciated.

#30 Comment By connecticut farmer On November 12, 2018 @ 2:14 pm


Indeed. CNN may have “stopped doing news” longer than King even thinks– back to the days when he himself was holding forth on his nightly show. Remember the phrase “C(linton) N(ews) N(etwork)”? Nowadays, if ya want real news, it’s C-Span or nothing.

#31 Comment By Jeeves On November 12, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

BobS: you’ve got to allow for the possibility that his bone spurs were acting up. They are extremely sensitive to humidity.

#32 Comment By John C. Medaille On November 12, 2018 @ 4:59 pm

I can use this article as an example of blaming the victim.

#33 Comment By One Guy On November 12, 2018 @ 5:29 pm

You mean the guy who lies, insults and belittles other people constantly is claiming he doesn’t get respect? I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you.

#34 Comment By David Rankin On November 12, 2018 @ 8:16 pm

Someone above apparently sees no functional distinction between Acosta and Hannity. Unlike, Acosta, Sean does not present himself as a reporter. He speaks frankly as a commentator. What one thinks of his commentary is another matter.But he never tries to conceal the content of what he’s doing — if that were even possible.

#35 Comment By Thaomas On November 13, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

Yes, and barring an “embarrassing” reporter is just not right. And probably illegal.

#36 Comment By JohnT On November 14, 2018 @ 7:44 am

David Rankin: you do understand commentator and propagandist are not synonyms, yes?

#37 Comment By cyn On November 14, 2018 @ 6:54 pm

1)tired of the gaslighting, those of us seeing it on TV as it happened know he DID drop his hand onto her arm to prevent her from doing her job (so, he lied), 2)the video is NOT ‘altered’ any more than showing a closeup (so, ALL the media lied about it, as ALL video STILL show the fact he DID touch her, 3) they omit the fact he had already been allowed about 4 questions and was, as usual, yelling ‘rhetorical’ questions- as in, only for the purpose of namecalling, 4)the rules allow for 1-2 questions and to then let the others have the mic, but he refused, 5)they have 50 hard passes, so just stopping one is not hindering the press, 6)he can apply daily for a press pass to the WH.

#38 Comment By MM On November 15, 2018 @ 11:49 pm

JohnT: “You do understand commentator and propagandist are not synonyms, yes?”

You do understand that reporter and editorialist also aren’t synonyms, correct?

Tomorrow, a judge will determine if an editorialist should have retained the same access rights as a reporter.

#39 Comment By Dick Winningstad On November 24, 2018 @ 1:21 pm

Mr. Acosta should have been ejected and his press pass permanently revoked. CNN has plenty of other reporters with press passes. He is just grandstanding and taking time from other legitimate reporters. Hostile questions are good, debating issues is not for a press conference.