Jim Acosta and the Hubris of Celebrity Journalism
When do Jim Acosta’s 15 minutes of fame expire?
Has there ever been anyone less deserving of the spotlight who has managed to hog it quite so thoroughly as CNN’s White House show horse? Most recently, on Nov. 7, Acosta gave President Trump a moral lecture in the form of a loaded “question” about why Trump called the migrant “caravan” an “invasion.” According to Acosta, it is not an invasion because the migrants were hundreds of miles away, and besides, the migrants aren’t going to be “climbing over walls and so on.” One week later, as we all know, members of the caravan (and of course it’s not really a “caravan”) were sitting astride the border wall and invading U.S. territory. So much for Acosta’s credibility.
Mind you, the president answered Acosta’s “When are you going to stop beating your wife?” question, and acknowledged that he and the reporter have a difference of opinion about what an invasion is, but Acosta was pressing his left-wing agenda and not actually trying to elicit information with his “fake question.” Moreover, Acosta then tried to commandeer the press conference and ask another unrelated question even after the president had called on someone else. It wasn’t until Acosta refused to turn over the microphone to a White House intern and insisted on sparring with the president that Trump called him a “rude, terrible person.” Later, the White House withdrew Acosta’s press pass on account of his jostling with the intern when refusing to hand over the microphone, resulting in CNN suing the Trump administration to protect its preening, petulant reporter.
Face it, if Acosta were a grandstanding lawyer, he would have long since been found in contempt of court by the presiding judge, but because he is instead a grandstanding TV journalist he apparently has a constitutional right to do and say anything he wants so long as CNN is willing to sign his paycheck.
Really? Have we actually reached the point where the First Amendment enshrines the right to be rude? And if Jim Acosta has that right, then what is to stop every so-called journalist in the world from showing up at the White House with a whoopee cushion and a demand for a press pass?
Pardon me for not joining the journalistic pack and defending the divine right of reporters to act as buffoonishly as possible without suffering consequences. I know that is the response de rigueur for editors when someone like Acosta goes out of bounds, but I bring nearly four decades of experience in community journalism to the table, and to me Acosta is just one more self-important reporter who gives a bad name to the hard-working journalists who take their job more seriously than their haircut.
Truth be told, I have hired a couple of reporters and photographers over the years who thought they could be rude to the subjects they were covering. But unlike CNN I didn’t sue the sources who objected to the bad behavior of my employees; instead I sat down the culprits and told them that a repeat performance would not be tolerated. That, in a nutshell, seems to be the difference between community journalism and celebrity journalism. No one wants to sit Jim Acosta down and tell him the truth. He is a pretentious boor who needs to settle down and do his job — respectfully!
This entitlement mentality of his (and others in the TV pack) seems to be a manifestation of the mistaken belief that journalists have been granted some kind of hereditary nobility endowed to them by Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame. It’s almost as though these celebrity journalists consider themselves the Sun Kings of democracy and that everything else, including presidents and paupers, revolves around them.
But wait! Bob Woodward himself last week withdrew his blessing from CNN and Acosta. According to a series of tweets from NBC’s Dylan Byers, Woodward said at the Global Financial Leadership Conference in Naples, Florida, “In the news media there has been an emotional reaction to Trump. Too many people for Trump or against Trump have become emotionally unhinged about this.” The legendary Washington Post investigative reporter also complained about CNN suing the White House: “This is a negative ... Trump is sitting around saying, ‘This is great.’ ... “When we engage in [Trump’s strategy] we’re taking his bait.” … “The remedy [isn’t a lawsuit], it’s more serious reporting about what he’s doing.”
Say what you will about Woodward, and I don’t always agree with him, but he is on the right side of this debate. No one in journalism has earned the right to claim the rewards of celebrity journalism more than Woodward, but yet he has actually managed to remain somewhat humble and seemingly unimpressed with his own accomplishments. More power to him.
Meanwhile, Jim Acosta and CNN continue in their endeavor to modernize the 1813 complaint of Thomas Jefferson to the age of cable TV news:
“The newspapers of our country, by their abandoned spirit of falsehood, have more effectually destroyed the utility of the press than all the shackles devised by Bonaparte.”
Or as Donald Trump said more pointedly in response to being accosted by Acosta, “When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people” — and also, he might have added, the enemy of the free press’s utility and reputation.