CNN's Jim Acosta on the press' role in the Trump era

CNN's Jim Acosta on covering the Trump White House

        
It's become a familiar scene … the White House briefing room as battleground.

Jim Acosta: "You're saying something that's just patently untrue."
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: "Stating their policy positions is not 'patently untrue.'"

And often it's the press vs. the president. Jim Acosta, chief White House correspondent for CNN, has had his fair share of heated exchanges with President Trump. In November following the midterm election, Acosta had this exchange in which he struggled to maintain control of the microphone:

Acosta: "If I may ask on the Russia investigation. Are you concerned that you may have indictments —"
Mr. Trump: "I'm not concerned about anything with the Russia investigation because it's a hoax."
Acosta: "That you may indictments coming down? Are you —"
Mr. Trump: "That's enough. Put down the mic."
Acosta: "Mr. President, are you worried about indictments coming down in this investigation?"
Mr. Trump: "I'll tell you what: CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person."

Trump clashes with Jim Acosta in testy exchange by CNN on YouTube

That exchange led the White House to revoke Acosta's press pass. CNN took it to court, and Acosta is back on the job.

Whether he's a villain, a hero, or something in-between, Acosta is not about to take a back seat in the Briefing Room.

Correspondent Chip Reid asked, "Now, there are two basic criticisms of you from some of your colleagues, and certainly from the White House, and one of them is that you grandstand, that you sometimes make the news rather than report on the news. Is that a valid criticism?"

"I know folks are going to say that. I look at it as I'm doing my job," Acosta replied. "I see this as a very serious, serious moment in our nation's history. And I think, to some extent, we have been trying to figure out the best way to cover this president."

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CNN's Jim Acosta (right), with CBS News' Chip Reid. CBS News

"Do you think you've found the best way to cover him? Confront him? Challenge him?"

"I think I've found the best way for me."

But his way has not only brought attention to himself (including death threats on social media), but to his network (such as a pipe bomb sent to CNN's offices in New York).

"The man who sent the pipe bombs to CNN and other Democratic targets in the fall of 2018, on his social media account, he was directing death threats at me," Acosta said. "Something along the lines of, 'You're next. You're the enemy of America,' and so on. And so, my sense of it is that what started off as an act for the president, calling us 'fake news,' calling us the 'enemy of the people' and so on, has gotten out of control. And they don't know how to reel it back in."

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HarperCollins

In his new book titled "The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America," Acosta recounts his past few years on the political beat, first covering candidate Trump, then President Trump.

The title refers to a label Mr. Trump has personally attached to Acosta. "He did at that press conference right after the midterms," Acosta said. ("When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.") Talk about what we've been through over these last two years, not just during the first two years of this administration, but also the campaign. People forget about what happened during the campaign. You know, the Trump press corps would walk into an arena and thousands of people would start shouting at us all sorts of things. And then-candidate Donald Trump would refer to us as the 'disgusting news media,' the 'dishonest news media,' 'liars,' 'scum,' and so on."

Reid asked, "So, is that why you decided to write a book? Did you feel people needed to know? Or did you also feel perhaps you needed to explain yourself in some way?"

"Well, I wanted to do both. But mainly, Chip, you know, my feeling is – and I feel strongly about this – I don't want my children to grow up in a country where the press is called the enemy of the people. It's as simple as that."

Acosta is the son of a Cuban immigrant father and an American-born mother. Despite his heritage, though, immigration is not the only issue that made him want to delve deeper – or, as his critics might say, "go on the attack."

A major turning point, says Acosta, was the president's reaction to the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, where Mr. Trump contended that there were "very fine people on both sides."

"I think that that was a very important moment, not just for the press, but for the American people," said Acosta. "I don't believe that there are two sides to a story when it's a matter of right versus wrong. It just doesn't work that way. And I think that in this era, reporters have been thrust into a position where, you know, we are not only calling balls and strikes, but we are calling fouls."

These days, White House briefings are few and far between, making it harder for the media to call any of the shots.

Since the beginning of the year, Acosta said, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has only held two briefings.

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Forget the briefing room: Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders steps up to the microphones in the White House driveway. "What that has done is limit the number of questions we can ask, limit the reporters who can ask those questions," Jim Acosta said.  CBS News

"But you've been a critic of those press briefings," Reid said. "Is it really a big loss not to have them?"

"I think it is a big loss," Acosta replied, "because, I mean almost as important as what they say in the briefings in response to our questions is what they don't say, and how they don't want to answer the questions and avoid the questions. And so, I would love to see those briefings come back.

"I get passionate about it and maybe people say, 'Oh, you're outside your lane,' and so on. It's just, I don't want that way of life to change for us. And so, yeah, it's worth fighting for, it's worth shouting questions to make sure that they're held accountable on this sort of thing.

"I want my kids to grow up in a country where, you know, we can still shout questions at the president. He can take it. He's the president, right?"

"He can handle it?"

"He can handle it."

       
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Story produced by Amy Wall.