I Am a Journalist, but I Can Not Defend Jim Acosta
Jim Acosta's press credentials were suspended for breaking the rules of the presidential press conference, not because Trump is cracking down on freedom of speech.
He has the microphone. He begins his question and Trump interrupts him, arrogantly: “Here we go again!” Jim Acosta continues: “You said the caravan was an invasion” … “Well, I consider it an invasion,” says Trump. The CNN journalist continues: “Well, it was not an invasion. It is a group of migrants who move through Central America, across borders, to the United States.” Trump stops him and thanks him for his opinion. He says that they are not in agreement on the issue: “You and I have a difference of opinion.” Acosta insists with his idea; but the president, sharply, rejects him: “I want them to come, but legally. I want you to come. And do you know why? Because we have hundreds of companies that are coming. We need people.”
The exchange evolves. It becomes a discussion. Jim Acosta refutes until the president says: “You know what? I think you should let me lead the country and you run CNN.” His turn is over. Trump ratifies this: “Enough is enough.” The other journalists, waiting their turn, raise their hands. Trump gives the pass to a colleague of CNN; but Jim Acosta persists. He does not want to release the microphone. Trump, already upset, points to him and says: “That’s enough!” Acosta continues. An intern from The White House approaches, following the orders of her superiors, to snatch the microphone from Jim Acosta. The journalist does not let her take it. With his left hand he moves it away. He roughly tries to prevent her from taking the microphone. Meanwhile, Acosta is still talking. There is already a colleague standing waiting to be given the floor; but CNN insists. Now, he asks about the Russia investigation. Trump responds half-heartedly, because he does not want to. Again he says: “Enough is enough.” Then, as Acosta continues to speak, Trump departs from the rostrum. That’s when the journalist gives in and the intern manages to grab the microphone.
A colleague of the CNN journalist manages to take the floor; but Trump takes advantage of Acosta’s loss of the microphone to finish the fight. He tells Jim Acosta: “I’ll tell you something: CNN should be ashamed to have you working for them. You are a rude and terrible person. You should not be working for CNN. You are rude. How you treated Sarah Huckabee is horrible. And how you treat others, it’s horrible.” After the stern words, the journalist who had been standing for a while finally gets in his question, but while he is speaking, Jim Acosta gets back on his feet. This time, without a microphone, he raises his voice. Trump takes aim at Acosta: “Please, sit down…When you report fake news, when you do it, which is what CNN does, you are the enemy of the people.”
On YouTube, the two-minute and forty-two second encounter accumulates hundreds of thousands of views. A whole debate has been generated. CNN published a statement in which it says that “the president’s attacks on the press have gone too far. Not only are they dangerous, but disturbingly anti-American…A free press is vital to democracy, and we support Jim Acosta.” There are those who accuse the president of directly attacking freedom of expression. Others side with the head of state and say that Jim Acosta’s behavior was wrong. I support this opinion.
What I have criticized Trump most are his authoritarian gestures before the press: his constant attacks on the media, even though they may be biased and partial. It is the most dangerous thing about the Republican president because, as CNN rightly says, the free press is vital for the healthy functioning of societies. This is essential. And every time it is necessary to quote Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, or Thomas Jefferson himself, who said: “Our freedom depends on the free press, and that can not be limited without losing it.” But I can not defend Jim Acosta. Wednesday’s attacks by Trump were not against “freedom,” the greatest value, but against the crude and discourteous gestures of the CNN journalist.
It was not appropriate behavior for a presidential press conference. He stood up and tried to take the floor, even without the microphone. He did not hand it over, he roughly removed it from the woman who did her job. Press conferences are for questions, not for contrasting opinions. It was not a debate.
The White House withdrew his credentials. And Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, said that Jim Acosta had laid his hands on the young intern. That is a lie. But the reporter was rude – even more so than Trump, who was also rude. After that display of disrespect for the rules of a press conference, of that disrespect for the presidency, the appropriate thing is for CNN to look for another correspondent. Because surely that great broadcaster has journalists with better manners.
What are the limits of press freedom? None. Then there would be no such thing as freedom of the press. But that is not a license to disrespect the presidency, to ignore the rules, to be rude, and to behave in a even with his colleagues, and to impose discourteous manner.
The press has the duty to be a counterweight to power. To remain vigilant and denounce the authoritarian pretenses of Trump. But in this case, the president spoke harshly to a rude individual. And the journalist is not always right. Today I can not support Jim Acosta.