OPINION: Acosta Struggles To Understand The First Amendment

Shaun McCutcheon Plaintiff, McCutcheon v. FEC
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If someone begins remarks with the words, “I want to challenge you on something” they are not posing a question, they are attempting to start an argument. The intention to “challenge” shows an indifference to seeking information, and that the instigator has an opinion designed to put the other on the defensive.

These are the exact words that began the dialogue between CNN journalist Abilio James “Jim” Acosta and President Trump at a press conference last week. The heated exchange led to Acosta’s literal refusal to surrender the microphone to a White House intern. Following the unacceptable incident, the White House announced the suspension of Acosta’s White House “hard pass” press credential.

Despite the punishment, CNN continues to employ several journalists with access to the White House and associated briefings. Further, Acosta retains the rights to apply for temporary access (a day pass) to the White House. There is nothing that prevents him from contacting the press office or even the president himself for questions. In fact, Acosta followed the president to Paris last week, tweeting in a selfie that stated, in part, “We are on the ground for Trump’s trip to France.”

Acosta has not been “banned” from the White House as some have conveyed to make the situation more sensational than it really is and/or to support the frivolous lawsuit CNN has filed in the matter.

However, it has become evident that Acosta (and the network he represents) is uninterested in posing questions and instead, wants to create a hostile exchange and use these opportunities to grandstand and create news where the correspondents themselves become part of the story.

While journalism is the only profession (other than clergy) guaranteed by the First Amendment it does not give journalists the right to misuse their professional obligations for a personal or political agenda.

The CNN lawsuit and defenders of Acosta demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how press freedom works. Freedom of the press means the media can report anything (good or bad) about our government, candidates for office, and leaders without any repercussions. These actions, while commonplace in the United States, can get people killed in countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia.

However, with our freedoms, come responsibility to exercise them appropriately.

Reporters in the United States have great access and leeway in how they report. Yet, despite the freedom journalists are given, there is no guarantee or entitlement that they will receive any special attention from or even access to the President or any other official. That is a privilege that can be granted or removed similarly to a parent taking their teenager’s license to drive.

Elected or appointed officials have zero obligation to talk to journalists or engage with the press formally — but they will probably lose their next election if they don’t. A free press has the right to ask questions, and officials have every right to answer in the way they please. There is no obligation for any official or spokesperson to engage in a debate or argument or provide special access. They have every right to shut down a line of questioning or refuse to engage all together.

If desired, President Trump could kick CNN off the White House property at any time he wants. In my opinion he should do it more often, so we’ll end up with a better set of reporters at the White House. The current crop wants to be the story instead of reporting on the real news and success stories that have been generated over the past two years.

Stories about lower taxes, less regulation, record employment, trade victories, and wage growth are rare — despite being more newsworthy than the childish disruptions that have given Acosta (and many others in the White House press corps) a reputation for creating misleading and fake, news.

There is no shortage of news outlets and reporters who would love to be at the White House reporting the news fairly. With more qualified reporters, eager to report the news, the misbehavers at CNN will be further drowned out and ignored. As long Trump keeps his message clear, and his rallies, standing room only — he can continue to take his message directly to the people without a media filter.

The lawsuit filed by CNN claims that Acosta was attempting to pose a question to President Trump. The transcript and the video tell a different story. The correspondent was, as he has many other times, attempted to debate or challenge White House officials by behaving in an openly hostile and combative way.

The parties exercising their rights responsibly are the president and the White House team. Hopefully, the judges who hear CNN’s case — if it even gets that far — will provide a lesson to these journalists about their obligations under the First Amendment. Surely, they will not tolerate Acosta’s disruptive and irresponsible shenanigans in their courtroom.

Shaun McCutcheon is the successful plaintiff in the 2014 Supreme Court case McCutcheon v. FEC and an Alabama-based electrical engineer.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.