CNN and reporter Jim Acosta filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, claiming that the White House violated his constitutional rights by suspending his press access following an incident where Acosta would not relinquish the microphone during a press conference. The White House’s characterization of the events of last Wednesday have been ripped apart as an exaggeration complete with altered video footage, but the account put forth in CNN’s complaint is even more detached from reality.
Let’s break this down as it happened. And for the record, I’m going by video of the incident that CNN themselves broadcast.
First, Trump called on Acosta. That much, CNN agrees with, but that seems to be about it. From the complaint:
Acosta asked a question about one of President Trump’s statements during the midterm campaign—namely, whether a caravan making its way to the United States from Central America constitutes “an invasion” of the country, a significant feature of the President’s messaging during the just-ended campaign.
This is false. Acosta did not simply ask a question. He made a statement, saying, “I want to challenge you on one of the statements you made in the tail end of the campaign, in the midterms.” He then cited Trump’s characterization of a migrant caravan as an invasion. He proceeded to lecture the president by saying, “As you know, Mr. President, the caravan was not an invasion, it’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the U.S.” Finally, Acosta asked, “Why did you characterize it as such?” and “Do you think that you demonized immigrants in this election?”
According to CNN’s lawsuit, “The President declined to respond, instead remarking: ‘You know what? I think you should . . . 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 then says, “When Acosta attempted to ask a follow-up question, President Trump refused to take it.”
This is nonsense. Trump did respond to Acosta. Regarding the characterization of the caravan as an invasion, Trump simply said, “Because I consider it an invasion, you and I have a difference of opinion.” Regarding demonizing immigrants, Trump said, “Not at all. No, not at all. I want them to come into the country, but they have to come in legally. You know they have to come in, Jim, through a process. I want it to be a process. And I want people to come in and we need the people.”
Acosta then tried to interject, but Trump cut him off because he wasn’t done responding.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Trump said. “You know why we need the people, don’t you? Because we have hundreds of companies moving in. We need the people.”
The back and forth continued for a bit, with Trump responding to Acosta regarding a campaign ad. It wasn’t until Acosta again brought up Trump’s characterization of the caravan as an invasion–which Trump had already addressed–that Trump cut him off and made comments about CNN. Trump then said, “That’s enough.”
Then the lawsuit gets to the part where a female White House staffer went over to take the microphone away from Acosta, who wouldn’t comply with the president’s instructions.
Here’s what CNN’s lawsuit says happened:
A White House staffer then approached Acosta and attempted to grab the microphone. The staffer reached all the way across Acosta’s body, successfully latched onto the microphone, and physically attempted to remove it from Acosta’s right hand. Acosta held onto the microphone, stated “Pardon me, ma’am,” and continued to ask his question.
First off, the staffer did not reach all the way across Acosta’s body until after she had repeatedly attempted to take it from his left side. When Acosta twice jerked his right arm away, keeping the microphone out of her reach, she then went across to try and take it. Again, this is after the president of the United States told Acosta to stop and he kept talking anyway.
The lawsuit also conveniently omits what happened next. When the woman finally did manage to grasp the microphone–or as CNN disgustingly said, “latched onto” it–Acosta did not merely hold onto the microphone. He brought his arm down, making contact with the woman as he continued to try and maintain control of the microphone. When she did not let go, he then looked straight at her before saying, “Pardon me, ma’am.”
Now, Acosta did not place his hands on her, as the White House alleged, and he certainly did not assault her, as some have claimed. He did, however, actively try to keep a White House staffer from taking away the microphone as he continued talking, even after the president told him his time was up.
And with all this, CNN has the nerve to claim, “The content and viewpoint of CNN’s and Acosta’s reporting on the Trump administration—not his interaction with the staffer at the November 7 press conference—were the real reason the White House indefinitely revoked his press credentials.”
This is absurd! If CNN and Acosta’s reporting were the real reasons, Trump wouldn’t have called on him to ask a question in the first place. CNN can make legal arguments that the White House acted improperly in how they went about suspending Acosta’s access, but let’s not be ridiculous when it comes to why. Certainly, the White House did not do themselves any favors by focusing solely on Acosta’s interaction with the female staffer instead of the incident as a whole, but facts are facts.
Jim Acosta acted inappropriately. I don’t blame CNN for standing by their reporter, but this version of the story only supports Trump’s claims that they’re “fake news.”
Ronn Blitzer is the Senior Editor of Law&Crime and a former New York City prosecutor. Follow him on Twitter @RonnBlitzer.
[Image via CNN screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.