CNN’s Jim Acosta has had his White House press credentials suspended following a tense exchange with Trump on Wednesday. CNN, the White House Correspondents’ Association and others have denounced the move.
CNN says it’s “Facts First.” That’s about as believable as Trump’s claim of “America First.” Some see aggressive journalism here. I see media logrolling, and “frenemies” at play.
On a superficial level, I empathize with Acosta. At press conferences I try to ask tough questions. At State Department briefings, spokeswoman Heather Nauert has carefully avoided calling on me, especially after this exchange when she refused to say what State’s position was on torture and evaded criticizing Saudi Arabia and Israel.
I was suspended from the National Press Club for a time (the ethics committee eventually overturned it) after confronting a Saudi autocrat at the start of the Arab uprisings. And this summer I was forcibly ejected from the Trump-Putin news conference in Helsinki for nothing more than carrying a sign with the subject of my question — a tactic I hoped would increase my chances of getting called on.
Acosta seems eager for solidarity just now.
This is interesting in part because of how he and his network failed to extend that same solidarity to me that day in Helsinki. Among other things, after I was forced out of the room, while clutching my sign, “Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty,” Anderson Cooper asked Acosta what was going on. Acosta said I was being forced out and described me as “a man who identified himself with The Nation, a progressive publication. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, that’s how he represented himself.” He added, “He said the reason I’m being removed — talking about himself obviously — is that he had a sign.”
Acosta then speculated on live TV that, “It appears he was being removed from the room because he was carrying some kind of protest sign and he planned on causing a commotion.” Acosta suggested that I was a “journalist or posing as a journalist” who was “not willing to go on his own volition,” effectively implying I was to blame for the “scuffle” and that Finnish police were justified in removing me.
I’ve explained exactly what happened before. (Judge for yourself by watching a video of me explaining to reporters and officials why I had the sign.) Contrary to what Acosta reported, I didn’t expect to be taken out when I held it up. As I did, journalists were screaming at me to turn around so the TV cameras behind me would pick it up. (But I didn’t do that – as any self respecting protester would have – proving it wasn’t a protest, but a sign to get called on.)
At least CNN’s Christiane Amanpour correctly noted: “For all we know, that could have been a question — it sounds pretty innocuous.”
Acosta then tweeted: “Man describing himself as a reporter for The Nation forcibly removed from news conference.” The editor and publisher of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel tweeted back at Acosta: “Sam Husseini, communications director of Institute for Public Accuracy, received press accreditation from @thenation to cover the summit. As Trump administration consistently denigrates media, we’re deeply troubled by reports that he was forcibly removed from press conference.”
Neither Acosta nor CNN responded.
A lie – that I was a protester, not an accredited journalist – went around the world as I was detained for hours in Helsinki.
Producers from CNN and other big networks called to have me on the air to explain what happened. But then all of them suddenly canceled.
Now that Acosta and the media are protesting the White House’s suspension of his credentials I must ask why he and the other journalists that day didn’t intervene on my behalf or object to my expulsion?
CNN says they are “Facts First” not because they care so much about facts. It’s a brand to say Trump is a liar. They don’t have to engage in actual journalism — examining the ills of society, such as how big funders systematically pay off politicians for legislation they want, like Trump’s huge tax giveaway to the rich. There’s no urgency in corporate media to examine structural inequality, corporate corruption and the revelations of whistleblowers. They have little need for that if they can get an audience in an advertiser-friendly environment by focusing on the latest Trump outrage.
And Trump doesn’t need to deliver good paying jobs, restore communities ravaged by the opioid crisis, or scale back wars. He can just talk about how unfair CNN is.
They end up locking in each other’s audience. People gravitate to CNN because they hate Trump and people root for Trump because they hate CNN. (When he’s bombing someone though, CNN calls him “presidential.”)
The media-Trump shouting match dominates, drowning out other voices and underreported stories.
The mid-term elections briefly revived reporting on issues people care about: health care, the economy, immigration, the courts, even U.S. government support for Saudi-led atrocities in Yemen. But, unfortunately and predictably, it’s back to Trump-CNN squabbling, largely about Russia-gate.
While corporate media obsesses about Trump’s attacks on the press, it says nothing about the administration’s possible prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, or RT and Al-Jazeera being forced to register as foreign agents. State Department spokesperson Nauert – who has reportedly been offered the ambassadorship to the UN – has outright refused to take questions from Russian outlets.
While I was locked up in Helsinki, I couldn’t help but chuckle over the fact that throughout the city there were hundreds of billboards proclaiming Finland the “land of free press.”
I learned firsthand about CNN’s idea of “Facts First” when I confronted Jake Tapper over a falsehood a few years ago. It was never corrected on air. But more telling was his reaction: “Good point, we should we have couched that.” He implied that finessing the language could have deceived the viewer without being oafishly false – like Trump.
Sam Husseini is senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy. He’s also set up VotePact.org – which helps break out of the two party bind. His latest personal writings are at http://husseini.posthaven.com/ and tweets at http://twitter.com/samhusseini.