THE ACOSTA EFFECT RATTLES PRESS AND PUBLIC
An indecorous encounter between president and reporter continues to rattle the journalism community, a troubled place to begin with. President Trump and CNN reporter Jim Acosta sparred on camera during a White House press conference, followed by charge that Mr. Acosta later became physical with a White House intern — a charge he denies. The action was over in moments — but it was enough to spark caustic reactions, soul-searching, complaints and cautions for hours on end.
Mr. Acosta lost his White House credentials, and Mr. Trump went on with the business at hand. But it’s complicated.
“We want journalists to ask questions and seek truth. But Jim Acosta’s encounter Wednesday at a White House press conference was less about asking questions and more about making statements. In doing so, the CNN White House reporter gave President Trump room to critique Acosta’s professionalism,” say Al Tomkins and Kelly McBride, both media ethics scholars at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based think tank and journalism resource.
“In this time of difficult relations between the press and the White House, reporters who operate above reproach, while still challenging the power of the office, will build credibility. This is in no way a defense of Trump’s suspension of Acosta’s White House press credentials. Rather, it’s a caution to not hand your critic the stick to beat you with,” they advise.
Veteran Fox News Channel anchorman Chris Wallace declared that Mr. Acosta had “embarrassed himself.”
An instant political and cultural moment had been born. The White House Correspondents’ Association condemned Mr. Acosta’s loss of credentials. So did the Society of Professional Journalists.
“Politicians denying access to reporters as a way to control who covers them is a violation of the First Amendment,” the organization said — though its official code of ethics also advises that “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”
Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, launched a public petition demanding that journalists “stand in solidarity against Trump’s blacklist.” Within hours, close to 700,000 people had signed on to the pleas, which urged the press to “close ranks and stand up for journalism.”
The White House, meanwhile, also stood by its charge that Mr. Acosta had touched the intern in question; video footage of the event was subject to much interpretation.
“It’s important to show that Jim Acosta did place his hands on this White House staffer. She’s young, she was shaken up, she was intimidated by what Jim Acosta did. What we are seeing is bad behavior that cannot be tolerated,” White House senior communication adviser Mercedes Schlapp told Fox Business Network.
The White House press corps vies for a chance to question President Trump on Wednesday prior to a sparring match between Mr. Trump and CNN reporter Jim Acosta. The incident received national attention.