It’s a challenging time to be a journalist. Print media readership has been in decline for a long time and traditional television news has to go up against streaming and online content, as well as, of course, social media. In the United States, the challenges have become even greater for journalists in the last few years, as politics and society seem to have become so polarised. When the President of the United States tweets that the mainstream media is the enemy of the people, those working in that media could be forgiven for adding the Commander-in-Chief to their list of challenges.
CNN, the first all-news television channel in the US, is one of the President’s favourite Twitter targets and Jim Acosta, CNN’s Chief White House Correspondent, is… well, not exactly one of Trump’s favourite people. Acosta told Ryan Tubridy about his first run-in with President-elect Trump in January 2017, when CNN reported that Russia had compromising information on him. Trump described the report as – what else? – fake news.
“It was a situation where he was essentially saying up was down and black was white and real was fake… Keep in mind, during the campaign he called us the dishonest media, the disgusting news media, he called us scum and criminals and all sorts of things.”
Acosta described how journalists had supporters of the President-elect coming up to them in the so-called Press Cage and shouting “traitor” in their faces. By the time the press conference came around, Acosta told Ryan, he was feeling pretty ticked off.
“I did the right thing and I would do it all over again. I felt that our news organisation needed to be defended, but at the same time he was just not answering the question.”
Acosta later had a kind of a showdown during a press briefing in November 2018, when he tried to challenge the President about his assertion that a caravan of migrants headed to the US border from Central America amounted to an “invasion”. Trump kept interrupting as he was trying to ask the question.
“It goes back to a question of what would you do. Do you just sit there and take it? Do you let the bully beat you up at the playground? Or do you try to get that question out? And if it means talking over the President, you know, you just try to do it as politely and respectfully as possible… but you gotta get that question asked or otherwise why are you there in the first place?”
When a White House intern attempted to take the mic from Acosta’s hand, he resisted. This led to the White House removing Acosta’s press pass and then-Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeting out a doctored video of the event.
“We get called fake news all the time. This was the White House Press Secretary tweeting out a doctored video showing me karate chopping this intern… to try to justify what they were doing… That was the most Orwellian moment I had experienced in my entire career.”
The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America is published by HarperCollins.
You can hear all of Ryan’s chat with Jim Acosta, as well as the rest of The Ryan Tubridy Show here.
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