By Elton Gomes
CNN has filed a lawsuit against US President Trump and several aides from the White House, seeking the immediate restoration of correspondent Jim Acosta’s access to the White House.
The news channel filed the lawsuit after the White House suspended Acosta’s press pass, known as a Secret Service “hard pass” that allows the holder “access to areas designated for journalists in the West Wing, on Air Force One, and in other secured areas during presidential trips, which are routinely covered by the White House press corps”, last week. The suit alleges that such a suspension violates Acosta and CNN‘s First and Fifth Amendment rights.
The suit was filed in US District Court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning. It has been assigned to Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who has been appointed by Trump.
Both CNN and Acosta are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, while the six defendants include: Trump, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, Secret Service director Randolph Alles, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta’s press pass away.
“The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process,” the news network said in a statement.
The channel further spoke about what this could mean for journalists, “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the White House said in a statement, “This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” White House Press Secretary Sanders wrote, as per the New York Times.
According to media reports, last Thursday, the White House revoked the credential pass of CNN reporter Jim Acosta hours after he was involved in a heated confrontation with President Trump during a press conference.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Acosta angered Trump with questions about the president’s scaremongering about the so-called “caravan” of migrants making their way to US through Mexico, and the special counsel’s investigation in the Russia probe.
When Trump tried to move on to another reporter, Acosta refused to surrender the microphone provided by the White House, and attempted to ask Trump another question. A female White House staffer tried to take the microphone from him but Acosta held on. Trump then called Acosta “a rude, terrible person”.
Acosta only had a brief interaction with the intern. He appeared to brush her arm as she reached for the microphone while he tried to hold onto it. Video footage clearly indicates that Acosta said, “Pardon me, ma’am,” as the staffer tried to take the microphone from him.
BREAKING: White House aide grabs and tries to physically remove a microphone from CNN Correspondent Jim Acosta during a contentious exchange with President Trump at a news conference. pic.twitter.com/Ml1OvlXpa9
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 7, 2018
Hours after the press conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement accusing Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.” Sanders termed Acosta’s behaviour as “absolutely unacceptable”.
Acosta later tweeted that Sanders’ statement that he put his hands on the aide was “a lie”. Coming out in full support of Acosta, CNN said in a statement that the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass as “retaliation for his challenging questions”. The news network also accused Sanders of lying about Acosta’s actions.
“[Sanders] provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better,” CNN said, the Associated Press reported.
White House releases doctored video, changes its stance on Acosta
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday night shared a video of Acosta that appeared to have been altered such that his actions look more aggressive towards the White House intern. Acosta’s words, “Pardon me, ma’am,” had not been included in the video shared by Sanders.
We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video. pic.twitter.com/T8X1Ng912y
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) November 8, 2018
Critics said that video has been sped up in a way that dramatically changes Acosta’s response. They further said it was deceptively edited to score political points.
The edited video was first shared by Paul Joseph Watson, who is known for his conspiracy theory videos on the far-right website Infowars. Watson said that he had not changed the speed of the video, and claims that video had been altered were a “brazen lie.”
Sanders accused Acosta of “inappropriate behavior” stating that “We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video,” CBS reported.
However, Sanders’s Tuesday morning statement made it seem as though Acosta was not allowing other journalists to ask questions. Her statement had no mention of Acosta’s “inappropriate behavior”.
“After Mr. Acosta asked the President two questions — each of which the President answered — he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters,” Sanders said in her statement.
Advocacy group PEN America sues Trump
This is not the first time President Trump is facing a lawsuit after having assumed office. In October, free speech advocacy group PEN America sued Trump, claiming he “violated the First Amendment and his oath to uphold the Constitution”.
The advocacy group alleged that Trump’s frequent threats against the press are “intended to stifle exercise of the constitutional protections of free speech”. PEN American noted that the President has the right to criticise the press, but not to punish it.
Trump and his anti-media rhetoric
After coming to power, Trump has launched several attacks against the media. He threatened to force higher postal service rates on Amazon because of critical coverage by the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos. Trump had ordered the Justice Department to block the AT&T–Time Warner merger as he dislikes the Time Warner channel CNN, and he has been infamous for banning reporters for asking “inappropriate” questions.
When Peter Alexander of NBC News tried to defend Acosta, Trump criticised him, saying “I’m not a big fan of yours, either, to be honest.” After Alexander proceeded with his question, Trump interrupted and pointing to Acosta, reprimanded him saying, “What, are you trying to be him?”
Trump also shouted down April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, commanding her to “sit down” and calling her rude. In total, Trump reportedly ordered journalists to “sit down” at least five times during press conference.
Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University who has been studying the American media for more than 30 years, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that Trump “doesn’t know anything about the issues that he must deal with. He isn’t good at the job. Nothing he says can be trusted, and when you have a president like that, what’s going to happen is he generates a lot of bad news for himself”.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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