A day after the midterm elections in the United States, President Donald Trump held a 90-minute press conference in which he vented his frustrations with the media multiple times. After a heated moment between Trump and CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, The White House revoked Acosta’s press pass.
Donald Trump was unable to contain his frustration when questioned by CNN reporter Jim Acosta. At first, Acosta questioned Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric regarding the caravan of immigrants from South America. Trump responded with hostility, denying that he demonized immigrants over the course of the midterm campaigns. When Acosta tried to ask a second question, Trump denied him and attempted to move on to the next correspondent. A White House intern attempted to grab his microphone but Acosta held on to it and tried to continue with his question.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained the decision to ban Jim Acosta from the White House in a tweet: “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.” Jim Acosta responded to the tweet, simply saying, “this is a lie.” CNN also issued a statement in opposition to the banning: “it was done in retaliation for [Jim Acosta’s] challenging questions at today’s press conference. In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better.”
Sanders followed up by posting a video of the incident, zooming in on Acosta’s arm pushing down on the intern’s arm. The video Sanders posted originated from the far-right website InfoWars. The video speeds up the movement of Acosta’s arm to make it appear more violent than it really was. Multiple online commentators and news websites have since posted side-by-side videos comparing the unedited video of the incident with the video Sarah Sanders propagated, highlighting the differences.
The White House News Photographers Association was “appalled” at the release of the edited video, stating that “manipulating images is manipulating truth. It’s deceptive, dangerous and unethical. Knowingly sharing manipulated images is equally problematic, particularly when the person sharing them is a representative of our country’s highest office with vast influence over public opinion.”
Trump responded to accusations that the video was doctored by saying, “nobody manipulated it, give me a break. That’s just dishonest reporting.” However, he then went on to downplay Acosta touching the White House intern’s arm, suggesting that he wasn’t bothered by that particular incident: “I don’t hold him [sic] for that, because it wasn’t overly horrible,” Trump said of the incident.
Donald Trump’s comments suggest that Acosta was banned not for his treatment of a White House intern, but instead for asking a second question against Trump’s wishes. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders used two acts of gas-lighting to obscure Trump’s true intentions. First, she made use of an intern’s awkward interaction with Jim Acosta to justify the revocation of his press pass. Secondly, she distributed a video that exaggerated Acosta’s movements to make the incident look more violent.
The Trump administration has frequently used gas-lighting and denials of verifiable truths over the last two years. In the administration’s first press conference, Press Secretary Sean Spicer famously scolded the media for reporting that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration ceremony was smaller than Obama’s in 2008. He called it “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
Trump has frequently made inflammatory remarks towards journalists, referring to organizations such as CNN as the “enemies of the people.” In October alone, Trump praised Republican representative Greg Gianforte for assaulting a Guardian journalist, saying, “any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kinda guy,” and responded to mail bombs sent against CNN and other prominent opponents by saying that he “could tone up” his anti-media rhetoric if he wanted to.
The US media must not be afraid to call out the lies spread by the White House, and should stand behind reporters that come under fire. Media companies rely on access to the White House and political pundits, and therefore generally prioritize their relationships with powerful sources. In general, the US media does a better job of challenging the Trump administration than previous administrations primarily because Trump does not respect the media and lacks the decorum of previous presidents. Media sources that failed to voice opposition against the illegal war in Iraq and ever-increasing state surveillance laws now frequently question Trump’s comments and policies.
It is crucial that journalists question those in power, but they must also remember to focus on policy rather than personality so as to decelerate the cycle of antagonism between Trump and the media.
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