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Donald Trump

CNN sues White House to try to regain access for banned reporter Jim Acosta

  • Acosta’s pass was revoked after he argued with Donald Trump about a campaign advert and an aide tried to take the microphone from him
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 12:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 5:11am

CNN sued the Trump administration on behalf of reporter Jim Acosta on Tuesday, asking a court to restore Acosta’s White House press pass after US President Donald Trump suspended it last week.

The unusual suit, an escalation of Trump’s long-running war of words with CNN, seeks a judge’s intervention after Trump banished Acosta from the White House grounds for an indefinite period after a brief altercation between Acosta and a White House press intern.

After a testy exchange between the president and the reporter, the unidentified press aide – an intern – went up to Acosta to take a microphone out of his hands. As a result, press secretary Sarah Sanders announced a few hours later that the White House had revoked Acosta’s “hard pass”, which enables reporters to enter and leave the grounds each day.

CNN filed suit in US District Court in Washington. “We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process,” the network said in a statement released Tuesday morning.

Legal experts say that the network’s chances of winning in court are favourable. The First Amendment protects journalists against arbitrary restrictions by government officials.

“I think it’s a really strong lawsuit,” Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment lawyer, told CNN on Sunday. “I think [CNN] should sue, and if it’s not about Acosta, this is going to happen again … So whether it’s CNN suing or the next company suing, someone’s going to have to bring a lawsuit, and whoever does is going to win” unless the White House can show that Acosta is violent and disruptive.

Disputes have occasionally flared over which members of the press corps are qualified to receive a “hard pass”. But Trump’s action appears to be unprecedented; there’s no record of a president revoking such a pass from a reporter because he did not like the questions the reporter asked.

“The government cannot exclude reporters from [the White House] because of their views,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “Once the government created a general right of access it cannot selectively withdraw it based on viewpoint.”

This isn’t principally a legal question. It’s a question of editorial independence
Richard Tofel, Pro Publica

CNN’s lawsuit, he said, “is critical to preserve the media’s ability to ask hard questions and hold the government accountable [or] reporters would end up hesitating before asking sharp questions”.

In a statement Tuesday, the White House Correspondents Association’s president, Olivier Knox, said the organisation “strongly supports” CNN in its bid to regain Acosta’s access. He said the revocation of Acosta’s credential was a “disproportionate reaction” to the incident at the news conference.

“The president of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him,” Knox said.

Others have urged even stronger action in response to Trump’s retaliation against Acosta.

Richard Tofel, the president of Pro Publica, an non-profit investigative news organisation, suggested that journalists band together and walk out of the White House press room.

“If favourable coverage is the price of operating within the [White House] gates, then we can cover it from outside the gates,” said Tofel, a lawyer who was himself once an intern in the White House press office.

“The press corps in the room should say, ‘If you’ve redefined the rules to hand out passes only to those whose coverage you don’t object to, we’re all leaving.’ This isn’t principally a legal question. It’s a question of editorial independence.”