CNN is suing the White House after Donald Trump’s administration pulled longtime reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials following a heated press conference the day after the U.S. midterm elections.
On Tuesday, the cable news network filed a lawsuit against Trump and top staffers, including Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Chief Of Staff Bill Shine, and the Secret Service, who physically took away Acosta’s press pass that afternoon. The lawsuit demands the reinstatement of Acosta’s press credentials.
“The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment right of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process,” the news network says via statement, cautioning the removal of a White House correspondent can happen to anyone. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
The lawsuit argues, “This severe and unprecedented punishment is the culmination of years of hostility by President Trump against CNN and Acosta based on the contents of their reporting — an unabashed attempt to censor the press and exclude reporters from the White House who challenge and dispute the President’s point of view.”
“The First Amendment grants the right of all journalists to hold those in power accountable and ask tough questions,” CNN president Jeff Zucker said via an internal memo on Tuesday. “It’s what Jim, and all of his colleagues who cover the White House and the administration, do with integrity and professionalism. As we have said before, we will always stand up for our rights. That is why we have filed suit.”
The Nov. 7 press conference turned into a shouting match between the president and Acosta after he questioned Trump’s “caravan invasion” rhetoric. Trump, who personally picked Acosta to ask a question, went off on the CNN correspondent in response.
“That’s enough! Put down the mic! CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You should not be working for CNN,” Trump shouted. “The way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible. The way you treat other people is horrible!”
NBC’s White House reporter Peter Alexander defended Acosta, calling the president’s outburst “unfair” and adding that the CNN correspondent is “a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.” Trump hissed in retort, “I’m not a big fan of yours either!” Acosta then tried to pose a question about “pipe bombs” before he was again interrupted by another outburst.
“Just sit down! When you report fake news, which CNN does, you are the enemy of the people,” the president shouted.
Immediately following the incident, CNN sent out a statement via Twitter, decrying the White House and Trump’s attack.
“This President’s ongoing attacks on the press have gone too far,” CNN posted. “They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American. While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it. A free press is vital to democracy and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere.”
The White House responded to CNN, claiming Acosta put his hand on an intern who repeatedly attempted to grab his microphone away, sharing a highly doctored video of the incident, which sped up the events to make Acosta’s movements appear more severe than they were — an act of aggression on his part. The White House also muted audio of the incident in which Acosta can be heard saying “Pardon me, ma’am” as the intern repeatedly reaches for his mic.
Reporters, networks, and the White House Correspondents’ Association came to CNN and Acosta’s defence following the revocation of his credentials, saying that Acosta only attempted to keep his microphone to ask a second question when the intern repeatedly made a grab for the mic.
The White House responded to the lawsuit on Tuesday, calling it “just more grandstanding from CNN.”
“The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional,” the statement by Sanders continues. “The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor. If there is no check on this type of behaviour it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff, and members of the media to conduct business.”
The lawsuit argues that neither CNN nor Acosta were given “formal notice” or “reasons” for the revocation of the pass due to the “behaviour” Sanders implies.