Opinion: Acosta’s press pass represents First Amendment rights and civility


Recently, CNN reporter Jim Acosta was stripped of his press pass by the White House, following a tense altercation between him and the president.  However, Judge Timothy Kelly ruled that the White House must return Acosta’s press pass, ruling that his Fifth Amendment right to due process had been violated.  This only a temporary fix as both parties in this legal matter will file a joint status report on how they will proceed.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this issue is how Fox News came out in support of Acosta’s case.  Fox News even went so far as to file an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court. “While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people,” said Fox News President Jay Wallace in his statement.  

A screenshot from the twitter feed of @PressSec, White House Press Secretary Sara Sanders, on Nov. 7, 2018. The tweet includes a doctored video clip of an exchange between CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta and a White House intern at the Nov. 7 press conference.

This arguably should not come as a surprise; although Fox News and CNN are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, they still are reliant on journalists and their inquiries to provide information to base their news on.  

Journalists are the lifeblood of all organizations that report the news: to disallow them to do their job would stem the flow of news.  

That is the reason that Fox News backed CNN’s, Jim Acosta.  They too fear a society where journalists are restricted from hearing information that is vital to hand over to the news agencies to report to the American people.  A journalist’s duty to society is to seek out events that occur, which carry consequences that affect the American people, and report what happened to the public. From there, the American people are able to form opinions on what transpired and either come out in support of or against it.  

This is simply necessary for the maintenance of a healthy society that wants to maintain its freedoms.  A well-informed populace is dangerous to no one save those who wish to undermine its will for personal gains.  This important concept goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers: they too saw the necessity to have a press that is protected from the retaliation of a corrupt government.  

The Founding Fathers were made stern in their belief for this due to their experiences with the previous British colonial rule and its tendency to restrict the press’s ability to report truthful information.  The Zenger Trial perfectly represents the suppression of the press that the British implemented in their colonies.

German immigrant and printer of the New York Weekly Journal John Zenger was accused of libel in 1733 by the colonial government of New York.  However, all that Zenger did was report negatively on the actions of the royal governor of New York at that time, William Cosby. Thankfully the libel charges were dropped due largely to the efforts of his lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, and the sympathy of the jury.

Seeing the negative effects of a press that was restricted from reporting certain aspects of what transpired, the Founding Fathers sought to ensure protection for the press in the form of the First Amendment.  In order for a government run by the people to succeed, they deeply believed that those same people had to be informed about all the events which concerned them. The only way to do that is to allow journalists to freely pursue the truth and report back to the people.  This today continues to be their sole duty to society.

The press’s ability to freely report on topics that concern the public remains extremely important to the preservation of our democracy.  President Trump, by denying CNN access to such information, is restricting this freedom based on the idea that CNN reports untruthful and negative news about his administration and actions.  This is much like royal governor William Cosby’s attempt to restrict Zenger’s ability to report on his actions.

Although there are many other news sources other than CNN available to the American public, it is the principle in this recent case that matters.  By allowing one news organization to lose its right to gather information necessary for the reporting of news, the American people would open the door to more bans of this sort.  This would allow the government to shut down any news organizations that did not report in a manner consistent with their wants. The American public would be fed misinformation without realizing it, as the remaining state-approved media sources would be broadcasting the same information.

That is why all news sources, even Fox News, have a vested interest in Jim Acosta’s case: their futures very well may depend on the outcome.  President Trump cannot simply dismiss CNN from receiving information because of the actions of one journalist. He could simply request another representative from CNN be present at the briefings, which would allow the press’s freedom to remain unabridged.  However, he is using Jim Acosta’s actions to justify a course of action that comes from a personal grievance with the news agency.

President Trump must realize that he cannot, must not pursue this for the sake of our democracy.  If the judge rules in favor of the Trump administration, then irreparable damage will be done to the freedom of the press, putting our democracy in danger; for, a government run by the people cannot continue in such a manner without the press holding the government and other entities accountable for their actions.  A victory, in this case, could create the perfect breeding grounds for the formation of a corrupt, unaccountable government.

For this reason, the editors and staff and Ethic News support restoration of Jim Acosta’s access to the White House.  This action shall prevent a grievous error by the Trump Administration to restrict a journalist from being present at official news briefings, which would set a dangerous precedent for future administrations seeking to restrict the press for purposes harmful to the American people.

However, something also must be said about the professional air which journalists should maintain in their profession.  Jim Acosta, regardless of the wrong that was done to him by the Trump Administration, should not have acted in the manner in which he did.  He should have never attempted to block the aide’s attempts to take the microphone from him and pass it onto another journalist. Regardless of the severity by which he touched her, which is disputed as claims that the video released by the White House was altered arises, no one should treat another person simply doing their job in such a manner.  

Journalists from all news agencies should treat everyone they come into contact with the utmost respect and dignity befitting their role in society.  The behavior he displayed should not be replicated by other journalists, as it detracts from the respectability of the profession.

He should have handed over the microphone when it was requested and accepted that President Trump was not going to answer any further questions: any display he would have put on would not have changed the president’s mind.  By doing so, Acosta would have prevented this debacle from forming and kept that image of civility that journalists are renowned for.

However, by his actions he has given a cause for the suspension of his press, creating a potential danger for the state of our democracy now and in the future, and has undoubtedly caused a negative opinion to form in some Americans’ minds about the trustworthiness of the press.  It would be prudent for all other journalists now and in the future to take note of this mishap, learn from it and always go about their job with the civility it requires.

Although the editors and staff of Ethic News do support Acosta in his fight to ensure CNN’s access to the white house, we must also stress that necessity for all journalists to maintain an air of professionalism at all times.  They are entrusted with an honor that dates back to the formation of our democracy: they must act accordingly. Pursuing this course of action will ensure that the press maintains the trust of the people they serve so diligently, which will, in turn, allow them to provide the news that the American public relies on to remain free of any corrupt government’s control.     

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