Challenging questions from press too hard for Trump

  • CNN journalist Jim Acosta before a news conference with President Donald Trump in the White House, last Wednesday, in Washington. ap photo

Published: 11/11/2018 7:09:06 PM

Since the times of Thomas Jefferson, many, maybe all, of our presidents have begrudged the bright, intense, often critical, sometime hostile questions of reporters.

Who wouldn’t prefer softball questions from a fawning press over the scrutiny of reporters doing their job – holding our leaders accountable for their actions on behalf of the voters who can’t be in the White House briefing room to ask their own questions.

A recent Republican president, George W. Bush, probably didn’t appreciate some of the tough questions he faced especially after the Iraq invasion went south, but he was smart enough to understand the importance of a free press and its part in the running of our country. He noted that news media are “indispensable to democracy,” adding, “...power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

Now comes our current president. After President Trump wrangled with CNN’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, at a post-election press conference Wednesday, the White House pulled Acosta’s press credentials, saying he rudely put hands on a female intern who tried to take the mic from him as he persisted in peppering the president with questions.

Unedited video shows Acosta gripping the microphone as the intern tried to pry it away, and saying politely, “Excuse me, ma’am,” as he maneuvered to keep his hold. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later tweeted a shorter clip in which the speed was altered to make Acosta appear to chop hard at the intern’s arm.

Under fire for manufacturing a rationale to deny Acosta access to the White House complex, Sanders on Thursday refused to back down, even as the video she shared was reported to have come from the right-wing conspiracy website Other unedited video clips of the exchange show that Acosta never placed a hand on the intern, who initiated the physical contact as she tried to take the microphone.

No, it would appear the president took offense at Acosta’s rather aggressively, perhaps too aggressively, persisting in questioning the president about calling a “caravan” of Central American refugees an “invasion.” We think that while the president may have felt justified because he was annoyed at Costa and the White House press corps in general, that his response was inappropriate.

Pulling Acosta’s credentials sends a signal that reporters should not ask challenging questions, which is exactly what our Founding Fathers and our Constitution intended for a free press to do.

In a democracy, the president should not be able to pick and choose who asks the questions. Republicans wouldn’t stand for it if the tables were turned. Yes, life would be better for Donald Trump if he could exclude all reporters except his fans at Fox. But this isn’t about him. It’s about the country – whose Founding Fathers understood the importance of a free press holding elected officials accountable.

As the scion of a billionaire and president of his own company all his life, Donald Trump has probably never had to deal with contrary opinions or been often challenged about his views and actions, so it’s probably doubly difficult for our current president to cope with criticism or scrutiny. But our country is not a private business or a monarchy.

The president may have big ideas and an agenda many in the country embrace, but he can be petty. Someone once said that the presidency doesn’t change, as much as amplify, the character of a person who occupies the White House. In Trump’s case, the effect is to make him seem smaller.

We think the White House should admit it acted rashly in a heated moment and restore Acosta’s press access. That would be the big thing to do.

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