New Press Rules for White House Pressers - Will We Have a Speaker of the Press someday?

In Tijuana last weekend a couple of things happened, depending on what side of the border one was on. On the Mexican side, Mexicans fought a battle with riot police outside an emergency shelter set up in a sports complex, for the caravan of Central American migrants who are trying to cross into America and claim refugee status because of the high levels of crime and corruption in their countries.

The Mexicans were protesting the migrants, hurling projectiles at the police and denouncing the migrants as thieves and rapists, among other things. Reportedly some of the migrants threatened to machine-gun the protesters in the heat of the hurled insults. While on the other side, the border crossing was temporarily shut down to try and deal with the caravans.

This was reported in the Daily Beast by the way, so it's not just conservative media pointing out the blatant hypocrisy of those angry Mexicans. Of course, they likely don't see it as hypocrisy, as most hypocrites are wont to believe. They - should they choose to enter America illegally - are hard-working good people who merely want to add their voices and efforts to building America's economy and society. Or at least to buying a home somewhere in California, or Nevada, for example. Plus, Mexico still carries the memory of huge swaths of former territory lost to the efforts, organization, as well as both military and political skills of the evil Yanquis, like a wound buried deep in the nation's subconscious. Much easier to blame America for their own corruption.

Or blame migrants from their much poorer and even more corrupt Central American neighbors.

This isn't the first time that some commentators have pointed out how harsh Mexico's own immigration policy is, but the events of the last few days in Tijuana have made it hard to ignore or to brush away under the supposed unity of Hispano-Latino culture: a cultural golem that supposedly describes a continent's worth of diverse cultures as one easily-defined label. And it's a golem that crumbles under the reality of confrontations like this one.

Now imagine Jim Acosta - who was asking repeated questions to the President about the migrant caravan when the infamous mic scene took place - pointing out the hypocrisy of the Tijuana protest to Mexican authorities as a journalist working in Mexico. And let's be clear about something. Jim Acosta is a beltway brat whose father happens to have come from Cuba as a young kid in the early 60's. Like Ted Cruz's father only younger. But let's do this thought experiment to show what freedom of the press means in America.

There have been over 100 journalists killed in Mexico since 2000 according to the murky data available. Now go through the wiki list of American journalists murdered in America since say 1981. Most of them fall under one of the following categories:

  • Killed by members of the same immigrant community who were on opposing sides of political struggles. The Vietnamese and Haitian communities seem to have the most killings of this kind.
  • Killed by the mafia or other criminal/corrupt actors who feared being exposed.
  • Killed by lunatics as in the anthrax killings or the horrifying tragedy at The Capital in Annapolis where a grudge against the paper by a suspect in a criminal harassment case seems to have triggered the shootings there.
In Mexico, targeted killings of journalists don't divide along ethnic or pathological fault lines. They're targeted because of their attempts to expose bad actors in a country devoured by narcotics and other criminal activity. Yes, drug consumption in North America is also part of that terrifying problem. It would nice if journalists could talk about problems and possible solutions in Mexico without facing threats on their lives.

Now, what happens when Jim Acosta goes to a Trump rally and gets booed? People take selfies with him afterwards. Not quite the same, is it?

So, we have an ambitious jerk angling for his own show being turned into a martyr-hero by the media as a result of Trump's lashing back at his behavior at a press conference. And now the lawsuit by CNN with amicus briefs by most of mainstream media (including Fox) has resulted in Jim Acosta triumphantly strolling back to the White House under the clicking frenzy of platoons of photographers. The administration had threatened to once again take away his press pass but now seems to have conceded that his pass will remain in place, and Jim gets to come back to the pressers.

That's a problem, but not the one you might think.

Byron York, writing in the Washington Examiner, focuses on the precedent that seems to be being created by the Judge in the CNN lawsuit. And it's a troubling one for freedom of the press, because of the lawsuit itself ironically.

US District Court Judge Timothy Kelly in Cable News Network v. Donald J. Trump has said the problem with the White House withdrawing Acosta's press pass is that a process wasn't in place that Acosta could have appealed to. As York writes:

In short, the judge said to the White House: You can't throw out a reporter without going through a process. But if you go through a process -- which you, the White House can design -- then you can throw the reporter out. In the end, it could be that Kelly's ruling will make it easier for the White House to oust reporters in the future -- and to make the decision stick.

And design they did in short order. Here are the rules that will apparently now apply to press conferences. A brief set of rules that will surely be added to and amended and expanded until they become another ridiculous packet of regulations that govern every little last detail of our lives. Enjoy their simplicity while it lasts:

1.A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and then will yield the floor to other journalists;

2. At the discretion of the president or other White House official taking questions, a follow-up question or questions may be permitted; and where a follow up has been allowed and asked, the questioner will then yield the floor;

3. "Yielding the floor" includes, when applicable, physically surrendering the microphone to White House staff for use by the next questioner;

4. Failure to abide by any of rules (1) - (3) may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist's hard pass.

Is it just me or are we a step from having a Speaker of The Press and a Press Majority and Minority Leader?

When virtue is drained out the system and we are left with naked ambition meeting ambition then you have to have rules for everything. The conflict that both Acosta and the President wanted will result in less freedom of the press. Better journalists than Acosta will still be able to ask tough questions with this limited set of rules, but they add a dimension to the relationship between the White House and the press that hasn't really been seen before, not in the form of a specific set of rules.

This change and the court battles that still are to be fought over these new rules, are a tiny Rubicon that has been crossed. It may become a stream and then a river if we are not careful, one that's hard to cross back over again.

But despite that, we're a long way from Tijuana when it comes to the press, and Jim Acosta should appreciate that with a little more humility and a little less righteous obnoxiousness.

Posted by Keeley at November 21, 2018 7:01 PM
Comment #434704

It won’t take long for Jim Acosta to break the rules, and IF he limits himself to one question, he will first precede it with his usual vitriol and worthless opinions. Perhaps a restriction (rule #4) against anything that is strictly NOT only a question should be a forfeit of that reporter’s question?

Sad that rules of basic decency and fairness are required. Thanks Jim !

HHMmmm … Ohrealy didn’t post first!?!

Posted by: d.a.n at November 22, 2018 10:51 AM
Comment #434753

Jim Acosta is an embarrassment to journalists everywhere. His selfish actions have led to restrictions on all White House reporters. He should be shunned.

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Comment #435345

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