CNN’s White House Correspondent Jim Acosta’s back and forth Wednesday with Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, regarding the Statue of Liberty and its relevance to President Donald Trump’s proposed curtailment of legal immigration, used to be a recipe for suspension at the network.
In response to a 2015 House vote, limiting the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S., CNN correspondent Elise Labott tweeted “House passes bill that could limit Syrian refugees. Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish.” At the time, it was enough for CNN to suspend Labott for contravening their restrictions on displaying partisan biases.
CNN’s president Jeff Zucker called their commitment to nonpartisanship “essential” to viewers in a world where Fox News and MSNBC are “two partisan networks, that are looking out for their viewers.”
A lot has changed at CNN in two years.
“What you’re proposing or what the President’s proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration,” Acosta said to Miller.
He then quoted the words from Emma Lazarus’ poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” and then, finally, asked if Trump is “trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country.”
Miller and Acosta engaged in a heated back and forth with Acosta claiming that the administration is “bringing a press 1 for English philosophy” to the White House. “Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia” Acosta asked rhetorically.
So, what’s changed since Labott’s suspension?
“Times are very different” a CNN TV executive told Buzzfeed. “Acosta posed a question (albeit a loaded one) rather than making an affirmative statement” he continued.
Acosta is no stranger to spats with the White House, so much so even The Washington Post has taken notice, asking in a headline ‘Grandstanding’ or truth teller? CNN’s Acosta walks a fine line with Trump.
Acosta has described, on air, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer as “kind of useless” and his press briefings as “kind of pointless.” Acosta commented that covering the White House has been like “covering bad reality television,” claiming they are “stonewalling the news media.”
Buzzfeed reports that at CNN “[s]enior executives have discussed giving Acosta an anchor position or his own show.”
In the era of Trump, the media has capitalized on the public’s thirst for coverage hostile towards Trump’s administration. Both CNN’s and MSNBC’s ratings are on the rise, hitting their highest-rated quarters in nearly 15 years, along with digital subscriptions for The New York Times and The Washington Post.
By this measure, the Acosta controversy and hostility towards Trump is good for business.
In June, a CNN producer revealed in a hidden video that Zucker encouraged the network to direct its coverage towards the Russia investigation. That same month, three CNN reporters resigned for publishing a story that Anthony Scaramucci, then a member of Trump’s transition team, was under investigation in the Trump-Russia probe, which was easily debunked.
Not everyone in the establishment media is enthralled with Acosta’s behavior however. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough called Acosta’s dust up with Miller “something we would have accused the Serbs of doing back in the 1990’s. At that point it went off the rails.”
Some CNN employees expressed their dismay with Acosta’s actions. “Ugh, it’s just ugh” a CNN producer told the Washington Examiner. With the Trump ratings bonanza, one on-air political commenter at CNN understands Acosta’s motives. “He’s angling to host an opinion show” he told the Examiner. “These [White House] briefings are his auditions.”
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