Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

CNN suing Trump White House for return of Acosta's credentials

CNN is suing President Donald Trump and top aides on the White House communications team in an effort to get correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credentials immediately restored, the network announced this morning.

Acosta’s press pass to the White House was suspended Wednesday after a contentious news conference at which a visibly angry Trump berated Acosta, calling him a “rude, terrible person” for initially refusing to hand over the microphone to a White House aide and sit down after questioning Trump’s choice of language to describe a group of immigrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border.

The suit claims that the First and Fifth Amendment rights of the news channel and Acosta are being violated by the White House action.The suit is scheduled to be filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. today, according to CNN’s reporting.

"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,” a statement from the network said. “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.”

Also named in the suit are Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Bill Shine, the former president of Fox News, who now is in charge of communications at the White House.

In the wake of Wednesday’s press conference, Acosta returned to the White House for a 8 p.m. report and was denied entrance. A Secret Service agent demanded Acosta’s credentials, which he surrendered.

As Trump was boarding helicopter Friday for the start of his trip to France, he was asked about the suspension and said he did not know how long it would last. He said he might suspend the credentials of other reporters as well.

But, as discussed on CNN’s Sunday’s morning “Reliable Sources” program, there are detailed procedures in place that need to be followed for the suspension of press credentials, and they were not.

First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams said he believed CNN had a good case and should sue. Former ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson, who had his share of contentious press conferences in the era of Ronald Reagan, told host Brian Stelter he agreed about the need to push back in the courts.

Abrams said that if CNN does not sue, the White House could be emboldened to take credentials from other reporters it is unhappy with.

"While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," the channel’s statement said. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”

In 2006, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against The Baltimore Sun in a lawsuit against then Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that challenged his ban on members of his staff from talking with two Sun reporters.

While there are significant of differences between that case and today’s action by CNN, the judges in that 2006 ruling affirmed a lower court decision that had rejected the newspaper's claim that the reporters' First Amendment rights had been violated by an Ehrlich order issued in 2004. Read about it here.

The White House issued a statement saying it will “vigorously defend” itself against the suit, claiming it cannot run “orderly and fair” press conferences when correspondents behave as Acosta did Wednesday.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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