And then, on Monday, the White House gave up on the Acosta fight. “We have made a final determination in this process: your hard pass is restored,” reads the letter, which notes that the final decision took into account an appeal written by CNN lawyers over the weekend. Now CNN can drop its litigation: “Today the White House fully restored Jim Acosta’s press pass. As a result, our lawsuit is no longer necessary. We look forward to continuing to cover the White House,” reads a statement from the company.
But this doesn’t mean that Washington will return to the status quo. As part of its letter informing Acosta that he’s free to enter the White House grounds, the White House articulated a set of rules for conduct in future press conferences:
Is that it? First there were the Jordan Rules; now there are the Acosta Rules. These stipulations appear reverse-engineered from the situation that took place at Trump’s post-midterm news conference on Nov. 7, at which Acosta pushed the president on immigration and ill-advisedly declined to surrender the microphone when a White House intern attempted to re-possess it. The rules appear to codify to some degree the way things have always worked. In the increasingly rare and brief press appearances by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, reporters often get two questions but are sometimes limited to one. This policy sets the default to the bare minimum.
The White House’s letter to Acosta did address the difficulty of expanding beyond this sphere: “A press conference is not a mechanical exercise. We are likewise mindful that a more elaborate set of rules might be devised, including, for example, specific provisions for journalist conduct in the open (non-press room) areas of the White House and for Air Force One. At this time, we have decided not to frame such rules in the hope that professional journalistic norms will suffice to regulate conduct in those places.”
Another reading: We have decided not to frame additional rules because we are certain that our own boss violates them with abandon.
Whatever: The result of the Acosta dispute is a new set of rules promulgated by a White House that brags about the elimination of red tape and regulations of all stripes. Apparently, new regulations are okay when the target is the media. As the CNN litigation against the White House emphasized, there were really no existing guidelines or standards for press-pass revocation at the White House, largely because White Houses generally don’t do this sort of thing. That has changed.
A norm has fallen, giving way to pitiful little rules. Will reporters run afoul of these new rules? Will they ask two questions when they’re allotted only one? Such technicalities may be beside the point: Reporters will be thinking about those rules and the hassles that come along with violating them.