CNN Has Played Right Into Trump’s Hands
In what has become one of the dumbest stories of the year, CNN sued President Trump Tuesday. The litigation alleges the White House did not have grounds to revoke the press credential of reporter Jim Acosta, whom Trump berated during a post-election press conference last Wednesday.
“CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration this morning in DC District Court,” read a statement from the network. “It demands the return of the White House credentials of CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process. We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process.”
Acosta had become one of the most publicly recognizable members of the White House press corps, and had developed a reputation for confronting Trump or Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on camera. When he pressed Trump last Wednesday about the decision to refer to the caravan of Central American migrants making its way through Mexico as an “invasion,” the president refused to answer, prompting an intern to attempt to wrest the microphone from Acosta’s hand.
Acosta continued to ask a separate question about the Mueller investigation. Trump called the investigation a “hoax” before attacking Acosta. “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them,” the president said. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN. You’re a very rude person. The way you treat [Press Secretary] Sarah Huckabee [Sanders] is horrible. The way you treat other people is horrible.”
Hours after the press conference concluded, Sanders announced in a series of tweets that Acosta’s hard pass to cover the White House had been “suspended” until further notice. She alleged, absurdly, that the way in which Acosta placed his hands on the intern who tried to take the microphone was “disgusting” and “completely unacceptable.” Sanders also tweeted a video that had been doctored to make Acosta’s contact with the intern appear more violent than it actually was, leading to a frenzy of next-day criticism. Meanwhile, Trump had just fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who has a rich history of criticizing the Mueller investigation, at the top of the Justice Department.
The suit CNN filed on Tuesday names Trump, Sanders, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Bill Shine, Secret Service Director Randolph Alles and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta’s credential as defendants. Both CNN and Acosta are listed as plaintiffs. CNN argued in a statement that the lawsuit goes beyond restoring Acosta’s credential. “While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” the network said. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
The White House doesn’t seem to mind all the attention its handling of Acosta has drawn away from issues like Trump’s firing of Sessions, his threats to House Democrats, his false allegations of voter fraud, his shows of disrespect to veterans or any other number of alarming actions the president has taken since last Tuesday’s midterms. “This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” Sanders wrote in a statement, going on to claim again that Acosta “physically refused to surrender” the microphone during the press conference last Wednesday.
Not only was the White House unfazed by the lawsuit, they welcomed it. According to the complaint, CNN made several attempts to reach a resolution with the Trump administration, threatening to sue if Acosta’s credential was not returned. These threats were ignored, because as far as the White House is concerned, the longer Trump’s feud with Acosta stays in the news, the better. As the Daily Beast points out, several administration officials “have said that they privately celebrate whenever a Trump vs. Acosta narrative emerges in the national press,” as if there’s one front on which the president has consistently won since taking office, it’s his war on the media. This latest tiff with Acosta is just another skirmish to fall in the president’s favor, even if — or maybe especially if — Acosta is able to return to the White House.