The ‘Trump Media War’ Escalates!
CNN and Acosta are taking the extraordinary step to sue POTUS over last week’s fiery news conference. According to the suit, CNN believes Trump violated its First Amendment right by revoking Acosta’s “hard pass” . Thereby hampering his ability to cover the White House.
Thoughts on the “Acosta/CNN vs. the White House” press pass debacle that just escalated the Trump Media War to the lawsuit level. And some tips for companies thinking of pulling someone’s credentials.
In our opinion, the White House blew this controversy way out of proportion by pulling Jim Acosta’s “hard pass”. Now they have an even bigger mess on their hands. Pulling a reporter’s credentials should be done as a LAST RESORT, only when a CLEAR violation has been committed. If that action has to be argued, especially in court, it was the wrong move.
To be clear, CNN apparently has no issue (and perhaps encourages, wink, wink, ratings) their reporters to grandstand, as the White House has pointed out. That’s especially true in Jim Acosta’s case. He has garnered a reputation and a following for injecting his personal situation/opinion into many a report (“my grandfather was a Cuban immigrant”, “the Caravan is not an invasion”, etc). He is widely seen as President Trump’s top agitator and does not shy away from hiding his PERSONAL feelings on any issue.
The fact is, in the last few years the line between ‘reporter’ and ‘pundit’ or opinion writer has blurred, to the detriment of journalism everywhere. Reporters and news organizations should NEVER become part of the story. However, in the struggle to stand out amid the social media/internet din sadly, this has become the norm. A ‘hot take’ is now ‘reporting’.
That said, like most of their other PR controversies, the White House has handled this horribly. They simply have no sense or no regard, for the fallout after their knee-jerk reactions. The White House staff and the President could have diffused this in a number of different ways and you can do the same! (more on this in our brand media training or crisis communications training programs)
- The could have simply not called on Jim Acosta – a novel idea!
- They didn’t have to hand over the microphone in the first place, they could have had someone else (like the infamous intern) hold it for everyone.
- Have some press conference rules to begin with – each reporter gets one question and a follow up or assign a time limit that every reporter must abide by.
- Answer a reporter’s challenging, annoying questions using proper MEDIA TRAINING Rules/Tools and move on (ie, the answer/non-answer, use a bridge to a talking point, deflections, etc.)
- After the presser pull the reporter aside or have a sit down with CNN to talk over the dispute and if need be, implement changes.
After those and other methods, if pulling a credential seems like the only option, give your reasons immediately and clearly. That did NOT happen in this case.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders initially said Acosta had “assaulted an intern” by blocking the woman’s arm when she tried to take the microphone back. They said he acted unprofessionally. They reportedly used a doctored video from an unauthorized source to back up their claims. All of those responses inflamed the controversy.
Their response to today’s lawsuit was to say Acosta was “monopolizing the floor”. They added, “this was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters”. That’s a far cry from assaulting an intern. It’s not much of a First Amendment legal defense either.
What it boils down to is the President just doesn’t like Acosta’s style or the questions he asks. So, he pushed the Nuclear Button in this Media War and pulled his ‘hard pass’.
Former press secretary Ari Fleisher pointed this out on Twitter: Acosta “has access to the White House, the same every other opinion writer or op-ed writer has. He remains a member of the press corps and he can apply for a daily WH press pass. The only thing he lost is a hard pass, which clears him daily w/o need for a day pass.”
Fleisher has a point. (and apparently, an update!)
Still, none of it is a good look for the White House OR Jim Acosta/CNN.
The Trump Media War continues … stay tuned.
We can help you with press conference set up, credentialing rules and handling those ‘annoying’ reporters with their tough questions!
Give us a call at 206-900-6579 or send us an email at info@FRMediaTrain.com