The White House revoked the press pass of and defamed CNN’s Jim Acosta, falsely accusing him of putting his hands on an intern. Press secretary Sarah Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on the intern. In fact, video shows conclusively that the woman tried to grab the microphone from his hands, and he held onto it:
President Trump’s conduct (Sanders surely didn’t do this on her own) violates every democratic norm one can think of — and what’s more, is illegal.
The First Amendment protects the press’s right to report the news and the public’s right to receive that news. The government cannot punish or threaten the press or individuals based on the content of what is reported. In fact, in a public forum, which Twitter was deemed to be, a federal court already ordered Trump to unblock Twitter users who were critical of him.
There is actually a lawsuit pending alleging that Trump is violating the First Amendment of members of the press by using the powers of his office to curtail criticism. As I reported last month, “PEN’s lawsuit is not brought on behalf of those whom Trump threatened (e.g., The Post, Time Warner). Instead, it alleges: ‘Defendant’s use of the power and machinery of government to punish his media critics creates an atmosphere in which journalists must work under the threat of government retaliation. This environment, underscored by Defendant Trump’s campaign of intimidation against critical reporting, casts a chill on speech that — even if braved and overcome by diligent and courageous reporters — constitutes an ongoing First Amendment violation.'”
Acosta has an even more obvious case because he is the one whose rights have been directly violated. (The current lawsuit could also be amended specifically to reference the Acosta incident as precisely the sort of action that would chill the First Amendment rights of others.) The utility of filing a lawsuit (other than in annoying and embarrassing Trump and Sanders) would be a declaratory judgment ordering the White House to return Acosta’s credentials and barring the White House from taking such action in the future.
This is a far better option than writing pointed statements as both CNN and the White House Correspondents’ Association did on Wednesday. The statements, without further action, make the press appear feckless. They simply underscore the president’s dominance over the media.
While I believe the press must continue to cover and attend news conferences when Trump is present, there is absolutely no reason to attend Sanders’s briefings, which do not impart information but instead use the press as a forum to abuse and threaten reporters and spread misinformation. Sanders is not the news; the White House is the news. Reporters can cover their beats and obtain comment as necessary from Sanders without attending, let alone covering live, her (albeit rare) news briefings.
Sanders whines that the press is too critical or too mean or something. She can think whatever she pleases, but she is an employee of the American people and has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution like every other White House employee. She has no right to use her office to lie to the American people, let alone to violate the First Amendment. She has disgraced herself and should be denied the normal presumption of good faith accorded to past White House press secretaries. I condemn harassment and threatening conduct of any sort (shame on the protesters who showed up at Tucker Carlson’s home and made threats); however, after leaving office, she deserves none of the niceties normally accorded to others in her position. (In the past, we would have said that she has not earned the right to be included in polite society.) No responsible news outlet should hire her; employers making hiring decisions have every reason to shun her.