If you watched President Donald Trump’s off-the-rails press conference on Wednesday and felt there was one side that came away victorious, I’m afraid you’re badly mistaken. There were no winners. Only losers.
I’m not referring to the entire White House press corps. There were a number of men and women in that room merely trying to do their jobs and acting like professionals. But President Trump and CNN’s Jim Acosta certainly weren’t among them.
In the aftermath of the wild presser, which saw the White House belly up to a dangerous precedent by revoking Acosta’s access, folks are either side of the fight rushed to take sides. Conservatives, of course, came to the president’s defense, decrying the mainstream media’s ongoing feud with the president. Acosta’s press colleagues, meanwhile, rebuked the president’s treatment of the CNN chief White House correspondent.
But from where I’m sitting, they both acted like petulant children.
I’ve never been President of the United States and never will be, but Trump’s complete lack of decorum continues to cheapen the legacy of the Oval Office. His conduct is unbecoming of a president, and has been from the day he was inaugurated. His narcissistic spats with reporters — however much of the blame the press may share in it — has been silly from the start, but now it’s teetering on the verge of being un-American. Continual references to the media as “enemies of the people,” and words of encouragement for a member of Congress who “body-slammed” a reporter during his campaign are incredibly inappropriate for a man who has sworn to uphold the freedom of the press.
I am, however, a journalist, and my take on the behavior of Acosta is that he should be disciplined by CNN — not blindly defended. One of the first rules of the trade learned by young reporters is that you never allow yourself to become part of the story. With Acosta, it’s always about Acosta. That has been a common theme of his reporting for CNN since Trump’s election in 2016. He regularly spars with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckeby Sanders and has had more than one joust with Trump. Even before Trump’s inauguration, Acosta got into it with the president-elect.
A White House press conference is not a venue for journalistic grandstanding. A reporter has no business attempting to interrupt, shout down and berate the president. Reporters are there to ask questions. Acosta wasn’t there to ask questions. He was there to argue. He started with, “I want to challenge you…” and then proceeded to lecture the president over Trump’s description of the migrant caravan making its way towards the southern U.S. border.
Trump was not in the wrong to ask Acosta to give up the mic and sit down. It’s the president’s prerogative to choose which correspondents he’ll allow to ask questions. But when Acosta finally shut up, the president couldn’t let well enough alone. He had to launch into a rant about how shameful Acosta’s behavior was. Which led to Acosta getting back to his feet to interject more of his opinions into the debate.
Could someone be the adult in the room?
There are some Trump supporters who take delight in every instance of the president or his press secretary taking a reporter to task, as if he’s somehow the winner in these situations. He’s not. Every time he loses his cool, he loses more of the independents who helped elect him in 2016 and will be crucial to his re-election chances in 2020. Plus, every instance cheapens the office of the presidency.
There are plenty of liberals and media types who are lauding Acosta as a hero, saying he “asked the tough questions” that some are afraid to ask of the president. Acosta wasn’t asking tough questions; he was engaging in self-aggrandizement. More than that, actions like his continue to undermine the 4th Estate. In an era of declined trust in the news media, in which the American public has serious misgivings about the press, self-serving actions like Acosta’s continue to erode what little trust remains.
Trump wasn’t a winner, Acosta wasn’t a winner, the White House wasn’t a winner, the press wasn’t a winner. They’re all losers.