Mediaite Interviews CNN’s Jim Acosta: Some Trump Fans ‘Lash Out’ in Ways That Make Press ‘Feel Endangered’
Mediaite spoke with CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta about the release of his book, The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America, and the state of the media in an age where journalists are regularly demonized by the president of the United States.
Acosta’s title hit shelves last Tuesday, offering readers “a never-before-reported account of what it’s like to be the President’s most hated correspondent.”
This Q&A initially ran in Mediaite’s daily newsletter, which you can sign up for here.
MEDIAITE: There has always been tension between the executive branch and the press, from Lincoln to Roosevelt to Nixon to Trump. What, if anything makes this President’s behavior against the press and his attempts to intimidate them, different than other times throughout history? Why did you feel the need to write this book? What is the biggest takeaway you want the public to internalize from it?
ACOSTA: We have seen presidents from both parties express their frustrations with the press. That’s absolutely normal. An adversarial relationship between the president and members of the press can be expected. But what we have seen and heard directed by Trump at the news media over the last three years, I believe, lands far outside the bounds of acceptable rhetoric coming from somebody who is supposed to be the leader of the free world. We have not seen a president repeatedly demonize the press as “the enemy of the people” in modern presidential history, if ever. What started off as an act for this president has gotten out of his control. We now see some of his supporters lash out at the press in ways that make some of us feel endangered. The public has a right to know that. You will see some of that in my book.
Trump thrives on coverage and ratings. Is there anything the press can do to deny him those things — or combat them — especially when so many falsehoods are presented by him as facts. Should the press make a decision, based on circumstances, to either limit certain coverage or not cover him at all?
As the Washington Post fact-checker recently found, Trump has uttered approximately 10,000 false or misleading statements since coming into office. That pattern of dishonesty has made members of the press fact-checkers in real time. We must always hold those in power accountable for their words and actions, which means we can’t just allow false statements from the president to go unchallenged. So we still have to do that part of our job. We still have to cover the president of the United States. We can’t abandon the beat just because the current occupant of the Oval Office seems incapable, at times, of sticking to the facts.
The function of a free press used to be based on objectivity, not taking sides in an issue but just reporting the events. Today, the press is as polarized and divided as the rest of the electorate. How does the press perform its duties when each camp seems to have its own version of what those events actually are?
As reporters, we not only deliver the news of the day. We must also defend the truth. And just because we are pro-truth doesn’t mean we are anti-Trump. But as I write in my book, there aren’t two sides to a story when it’s a matter of right versus wrong. When it comes to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, for example, there was only one side to the story. There weren’t very fine people on both sides. That’s the truth.
In the age of Trump, so many precedents have been set and so many norms have been broken. Do you ever see a time where the press goes back to business as usual, as it used to be? Or has the function of the press been changed forever, even after Trump is gone?
As I write in my book, a different kind of president calls for a different kind of playbook for journalists and citizens. We now have a president who attacks members of the press simply for doing their jobs. I doubt the next president, Republican or Democrat, will call us “the enemy.” When that rhetoric ends, I think you will see the temperature return to something close to normal.The function of the press will never change. But make no mistake, these are unprecedented challenges for our profession. We are here to speak truth to power. But it’s difficult to speak truth to power, when those in power can crush the truth.
As a White House correspondent for a major news outlet, you have extraordinary access to sources and figures that are part of the administration. When those sources give you information that has been vetted and verified and is then denied by others in the administration, how do you feel about the blatant nature of the conflicting facts being presented?
We do have a major challenge in that we rely on sources who will only speak to us anonymously. Then Trump comes out and calls those sources “phony.” That’s despite the fact that he’s talked to reporters in this same fashion in the past. The public needs to understand that some of the major figures of this administration speak to us “on background” all the time. And some of those same figures, like the first two press secretaries for this White House, have also blatantly lied to the American people. This has created a record of dishonesty for the Trump administration that won’t soon be forgotten. As I write in my book, the Trump White House is often like reporting inside a “hall of mirrors.” But we can’t get lost in our pursuit of the truth. That task is important, perhaps now more than ever.
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