CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta is no shrinking violet, but he had a valid question to ask President Donald Trump regarding the caravan of migrants headed to the U.S. southern border. President Trump objected to the line of inquiry and asked him to sit down. Mr. Acosta continued. A White House intern attempted to grab the microphone away and the reporter refused to surrender it. Mr. Trump then declined to answer, further criticized the reporter, and the Wednesday news conference continued on.
Those facts aren’t much in dispute, but what happened later is more of a clear-cut assault — on reality. As a result of this encounter, Mr. Acosta’s press credentials were suspended, essentially banning him from the White House. And to justify this act of unwarranted authoritarianism, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused him of “placing his hands on a young woman” circulated what appears to be a doctored video from Alex Jones’ creepy far-right conspiracy-mongering website InfoWars. Using a close-up and changing the replay speed at a critical moment, the video appears to exaggerate the contact between Mr. Acosta and the intern trying to take the microphone (although he still doesn’t “place his hands” so much as shield the microphone).
Not only is this classic “alternative facts,” it’s a moment rich in irony: The Trump White House used actual fake news to railroad a correspondent they constantly, yet falsely, accuse of purveying fake news. And when even the doctored video doesn’t make their case, that’s OK. Reality is not of any real consequence to this administration. They are only too happy to pick a fight with Mr. Acosta, CNN and the rest of the White House press corps. It keeps the subject off less comfortable topics like the dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the future of the special counsel’s investigation, not to mention the plethora of investigations House Democrats will be launching soon enough.
So here’s a reality check. President Trump’s post-election news conference was filled with all kinds of misrepresentations from his claim that the Senate is the most Republican its been in 100 years (when the GOP held a similar majority just 12 years ago) or his insistence that his existing federal disclosure forms are more revealing than tax returns (ridiculously false since disclosure forms don’t deal in exact numbers, just ranges, or reveal tax payments, charitable deductions, tax breaks and so on). But the president’s presentation was rich in attacks against the media, a favorite punching bag when things aren’t going especially well and sometimes when they are.
If the Acosta assault-that-didn’t happen wasn’t enough, there was the kindergarten worthy moment when President Trump accused Yamiche Alcindor of the PBS NewsHour of asking a “racist” question. And what made it racist? Apparently, in Trump World, the word applies to anything that touches on race that makes him uncomfortable. The reporter, who happens to be black, had asked the president if his frequent use of the word “nationalist” had emboldened white nationalists. The correct answer, incidentally, is “Yes, obviously,” but Mr. Trump’s peculiar choice of “racist” to object to the question was the equivalent of the classic playground taunt: “I know you are but what am I?” It likely made no sense to anyone above the age of six.
Indeed, there is a childishness that pervades the Trump administration’s response to criticism, but that doesn’t make them innocent. The media isn’t out to get this president. He only sees it that way because his round-the-clock assaults on social norms, his political missteps and his outright lies aren’t getting the fawning treatment he believes he’s due (and which perhaps only a handful of Fox News personalities provide). Anyone with doubts about that need only look at the video of the Acosta moment. It doesn’t take a CSI technician to see there is less there than meets the eye. The administration’s war on the press isn’t really a battle with CNN so much as an assault on the truth.
Whatever the shortcomings of Mr. Acosta, CNN or the rest of the nation’s free press in general, they pale compared to the falsities told by Mr. Trump and his underlings on a daily basis. We’d love to be proven wrong on that point, by the way, but we still trust our own eyes and ears.
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