Trump v. Acosta: It’s about the fame not the jour­nal­ism

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY CHAR­LIE MITCHELL

FOR THE PRES­I­DENT, THE BEN­E­FIT IS THAT HIS DE­FEND­ERS WILL CE­MENT THEIR BE­LIEF THAT THE ELITES ARE OUT TO GET HIM AND TO TWIST HIS EV­ERY POS­I­TIVE INTO A NEG­A­TIVE. FOR ACOSTA, THE BEN­E­FIT WILL COME DUR­ING SALARY NE­GO­TI­A­TIONS — “DID YOU SEE HOW MANY VIEWS HIS VIDEO RE­CEIVED?” — AND MORE THAN LIKELY VIA A LU­CRA­TIVE BOOK CON­TRACT.

Ten­sion be­tween the press and pub­lic of­fi­cials is a good thing. The greater worry for this pub­lic is if re­porters and politi­cians are too buddy-buddy.

That said, amid all the real news in Novem­ber was the dust-up be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and

CNN White House re­porter Jim Acosta.

Ev­ery­body prob­a­bly saw the video — Acosta bait­ing Trump us­ing a tone as well as words tan­ta­mount to, “Are you an id­iot?” Trump re­spond­ing by telling Acosta he should be ashamed of him­self. An in­tern try­ing to re­trieve the mi­cro­phone. Acosta jerk­ing away, press­ing more ques­tions, worded dif­fer­ently, but all eas­ily un­der­stood to be, “Re­ally, you are an id­iot, aren’t you?”

In the af­ter­math, Acosta’s press room ac­cess was with­drawn be­cause he had “as­saulted the in­tern.” CNN took the mat­ter to court and the White

House took a chill pill.

The case wasn’t about the law, but as it hap­pens the law on this sit­u­a­tion is well-set­tled.

• No one, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, is re­quired to talk to any­one about any­thing at any time. There is a fun­da­men­tal right to si­lence that all Amer­i­cans en­joy, and it could be ar­gued that too-few prac­tice.

• On the other hand, events that are open to the pub­lic are open to me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives be­cause, well, me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives are mem­bers of the pub­lic. Se­lec­tive ex­clu­sion of re­porters from pub­lic events based on their cov­er­age was long ago deemed un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The White House, ob­vi­ously, is not a pub­lic place. Ac­cess is strictly con­trolled, but that doesn’t mean it can be ar­bi­trary or con­tent-driven.

It would not serve the in­ter­ests of democ­racy to em­power any pres­i­dent to cre­ate an amen cor­ner and call it a press room, and so Trump — like all pres­i­dents — may not play fa­vorites. Neu­tral rules of deco­rum can be es­tab­lished and en­forced, but any court would have punc­tured a pre­tex­tual ejec­tion when the real rea­son was, “I don’t like you.”

Again, if an of­fi­cial chooses to re­turn calls to fa­vored jour­nal­ists or pro­vide in­ter­views only to fa­vored jour­nal­ists, there’s no prob­lem with that. Per­fectly le­gal. But open events are, well, open to those who wish to cheer, those who wish to boo and those re­main­ing few who seek hon­est com­ments and ex­pla­na­tions.

That brings us to this sad fact: In the ca­reers of many na­tion­ally prom­i­nent me­dia folks, it has be­come more about the fame and less about the jour­nal­ism. (An in­di­ca­tor is whether a per­son en­gaged in re­port­ing has a pub­lic­ity agent on his or her per­sonal pay­roll. Hun­dreds do.)

One path to fame fol­lows a sim­ple recipe:

The more ex­po­sure (air­time) the bet­ter.

The short­est path to more ex­po­sure is to act out, to be provoca­tive.

If provoca­tive isn’t enough, try out­landish.

It should be clear at this point: Don­ald Trump and Jim Acosta both fol­low that recipe and both serve up the same dish. To be clear: Their re­la­tion­ship has noth­ing to do with news. It has ev­ery­thing to do with putting on a show, build­ing a fan base, at­tract­ing sup­port­ers.

For the pres­i­dent, the ben­e­fit is that his de­fend­ers will ce­ment their be­lief that the elites are out to get him and to twist his ev­ery pos­i­tive into a neg­a­tive.

For Acosta, the ben­e­fit will come dur­ing salary ne­go­ti­a­tions — “Did you see how many views his video re­ceived?” — and more than likely via a lu­cra­tive book con­tract.

For the pub­lic, well, there’s the en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor — but not much more.

Again, ver­bal spar­ring be­tween those who make pub­lic pol­icy and those who re­late it to the masses

AAAis a nec­es­sary part of democ­racy. Ev­ery of­fi­cial at ev­ery level of gov­ern­ment wants 100 per­cent sup­port for his or her ac­tions or ideas. Be­ing hu­man, they tend to gloss over or talk past weak­nesses or flaws in their logic. At that point, it be­comes the job of the pub­lic, the loyal op­po­si­tion or the Fourth Es­tate to chal­lenge them, to ask for more de­tailed ex­pla­na­tions.

It’s how the sys­tem works.

It’s how prob­lems are solved, so­lu­tions are de­vised, a con­sen­sus is reached.

There are a cou­ple of ways the process can break down. One, ob­vi­ously, is if no one asks hard ques­tions and, in­stead, be­comes a cheer­leader for a team — loyal to a great leader no mat­ter what.

The other is if those em­ployed to fact-check fo­cus on them­selves more than their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. And that’s what we saw. The Trump-Acosta thing was no threat to the Con­sti­tu­tion. The dan­ger of the Trump-Acosta thing was any­one think­ing it had any­thing to do with jour­nal­ism.

Char­lie Mitchell is a Mis­sis­sippi jour­nal­ist.

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