I wholly understand the desire of members of the media to defend Jim Acosta.
While he may be a self-aggrandizing loudmouth who has no respect for decorum, he’s their self-aggrandizing loudmouth who has no respect for decorum.
However, at some level they do have to realize the basic fact that Jim Acosta is Jim Acosta, a preternaturally angry ball of carbon and hair product who thinks the story is himself and his views are canon. While most of us live in a heliocentric solar system, CNN’s chief White House correspondent lives in an Acostacentric universe. He’s proof that true love needn’t involve another individual.
At some level, that’s fine. Dan Rather originated this trip during the Watergate years and there have been plenty of acolytes who’ve stood on the shoulders of that dwarf. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that kind of thing as long as you acknowledge it for what it is.
Part of the problem is that the media doesn’t do that, instead pretending that Acosta to be involved in some sort of perverse heroism, all thanks to the fact that Donald Trump is president.
Another part of the issue is that self-aggrandizement crosses a line when you’re physically protecting a microphone by pushing away a White House intern because your monologue on caravans is so goshdarn important that America needs to hear it. At least with Rather, you got the impression his handlers could tell him, “Stop trying to make ‘courage‘ happen. It’s not going to happen.” Acosta, it seems, cannot be similarly reasoned with — if, indeed, CNN is trying to reason with him at all.
At least some people in the media are kind of aware of what Acosta is doing to what we like to refer to these days as “norms” within the White House press room. Take CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett. According to The Daily Wire, Garrett was speaking with radio talk show host Larry O’Connor on the air Friday when he was asked about Acosta and his behavior in an indirect manner.
O’Connor said that he didn’t want to put Garrett in the position of criticizing Acosta — but, he asked, if Acosta were out of the equation, would Garrett say “that there is a standard of conduct, there is (an) expected behavior from a White House correspondent that I think all of you would agree upon, right?”
“There is — no question about it,” Garrett said. “It’s the most majestic political place in America, the White House … it is a place of institutional heft and commands institutional respect — and I will say on my behalf, the previous press conference we had with President Trump in the Rose Garden, the president looked at me, I thought he called on me, I stood up, the White House aide handed me the microphone, I began to speak to the president of the United States, President Trump looked at me and said, ‘No, behind you. Kaitlan (Collins),’ with CNN.
“So I said, ‘oh,’ and what did I do? I handed back the microphone,” Garrett said.
“Now, some of my colleagues might say, ‘What (did) you do that for? You had the microphone; you have a voice; you can speak.’ The president of the United States said ‘not you.’ To my way of thinking, that’s enough. The president said, ‘I didn’t call on you, I called on somebody else.’ All right then – and I didn’t get a question that press conference. Some might say, ‘Well, you laid down,’ and ‘you were too deferential.’ I don’t feel that way.”
But, by implication, one can guess he certainly knows someone who does.
O’Connor probed further, saying that while some might consider revoking Acosta’s press pass an assault on the media, other Americans might look at the interaction between Trump and Acosta and say, “Yeah, I think the president might have a point in saying, ‘I don’t wanna deal with this guy anymore.'”
“They very well might, and my interpretation of that, Larry, is all of these questions are best resolved through the political channels that our country has long developed and long relied upon, and that’s why … I do my level best to not put myself or make myself part of the story, and I think the best journalists operate that way.” (Emphasis mine.)
“Because, again, I go back to that fundamental point. Why are you standing up to ask a question in the first place? To get an answer. Why’s that answer important? Because it tells the country something it didn’t already know. That’s the whole point of this interaction with the American presidency. To inform the public of what they have not yet learned.”
Here’s the interview. The part we’re discussing starts at the 4:22 point.
“The best journalists operate that way.” I hope the whiskey at Acosta’s place isn’t all that good because Major Garrett isn’t getting invited to any parties over there anytime soon.
He ain’t lying, though. White House correspondence isn’t gonzo journalism. The correspondent shouldn’t be part of the story — at least not during the news conference. The worst non-Acosta example of this was Helen Thomas during the Bush 43 administration. Thomas was the most famous person in the room most of the time, up to and including the press secretary, but see if you can remember any of the substance of her questions. If you can, I can guarantee you’re cheating by looking at YouTube. What we all took away is that she antagonized Bush and his functionaries — and, depending on how you felt about Bush, you liked it or you didn’t.
But the words that came out of her mouth and those that came back in response were all wholly irrelevant.
And that’s where we are with Acosta. As part of my job, I’ve seen that news conference video more times than NFL fans have seen that clip of Joe Theismann’s leg breaking. Here’s what I can recall about it: “something something caravans you’re wrong wait why are you taking the microphone away blah blah blah something.”
And that’s how it is with most of Acosta’s questions: His intransigence makes him the best-known correspondent in there, but he comes across like Charlie Brown’s teachers. The only thing he contributes to news conferences is a steadfast willingness to break decorum in order to draw attention to himself.
At some point, CNN has to ask how effective that tack really is.
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