Jim Acosta Did Nothing Wrong, and We Should Be Worried

We’ve seen the footage. We’ve read the story. What was at first yet another example of President Donald Trump losing his temper under the pressure of media questioning quickly became a reason for national concern as the White House took action against CNN journalist Jim Acosta after a press conference following the Nov. 6 Midterm Election. Acosta was denied entry to the White House the following day, and shortly after Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced the decision to temporarily revoke his press pass. This essentially means that Acosta would no longer be guaranteed access to the press core and would have to apply for a press pass each day, an application easily denied by the White House.

The Administration’s rationale for Acosta’s temporary suspension has wavered from day to day, but their initial accusation was one of physical violence. In a tweet, Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on an intern who had attempted to retrieve the microphone from him. The reality of the video clearly shows Acosta turning away from the intern, asking the president a follow-up question, then giving up the microphone. The only moment of contact occurs between the intern and Acosta’s arms as she reaches for the microphone. Not only that, but the video “evidence” of Acosta’s alleged violence provided by the press secretary has been proven to be sped up to appear more aggressive. After public and media mockery of the claim, even Donald Trump himself retracted that rationale, saying that while Acosta was “not nice to that young woman… I don’t hold him for that because it wasn’t overly, you know, horrible.” No White House representatives have repeated the accusation since, instead focusing on Acosta’s unprofessionalism and disrespect.

To put it bluntly, we should be worried. At first glance, the entire situation reeks of censorship and an overextension of control that is more than a little reminiscent of fascism. If you break it down by facts, the Trump Administration barred a reporter from covering the White House for asking questions they didn’t like and justified doing so with a lie. Not just a stretched truth, not a different interpretation of events, a total fabrication of events complete with tampered evidence. This sets an insane precedent, one that could threaten journalism and honest reporting if left unchecked. Acosta is a symbol of the media’s right to ask questions, even difficult ones. With his suspension, we find ourselves looking at a future where journalists can be punished for exercising that right on the grounds of false accusations.

And how far do the implications of those false accusations spread? We, as the public, now know beyond a shadow of doubt that the Trump Administration lies – not just to make themselves look good, but to demonize and criminalize those they disagree with. The president and his press secretary have essentially accused Acosta of abusing his power both as a journalist and a man by “placing his hands” on a young, defenseless intern. This is an exploitation of a real, urgent issue, a trivialization of something of which the President himself is guilty. The hypocrisy and blatant deceit go a long way to prove the administration’s intentions. This is not the removal of a threat to the White House, it is the smothering and censorship of a man who dared question the sovereign seat of the presidency. Does that ring any fascist bells for you? It should.

The White House reinstated Acosta’s press pass after bowing to CNN and Jim Acosta announced their federal lawsuit against the Trump Administration, but this alone is not reverse the precedent they have set. If the fire of censorship is left to spread, no one will be safe. Businesses, entertainers, even individual citizens could be penalized for speaking out against the president or his administration. The Constitutional violations will seek to stifle any opposition, using fear as a weapon to enforce militant loyalty and support. This is not speculation. It has happened in every fascist regime, every country sieged by dictatorship. Nazi Germany had their Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Mussolini’s Italy had their censorship of both private communication and the press. It is imperative that we, as a nation, diligently support our freedoms of speech and press. Our government must be held accountable for their lies, and we must be the ones to do so.

Brooke Morris is a fourth year English major. She can be reached at brookeam@uci.edu.