On Tuesday, CNN filed a lawsuit against President Trump and senior administration officials in their professional capacities following the revocation of Jim Acosta’s White House access. CNN and Acosta contest that the Trump administration is violating the first amendment right to a free press by removing a respected journalist’s White House credentials without justifiable cause.
The administration’s defense was that Acosta has displayed repeated inappropriate behavior by failing to yield to other reporters. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also claimed that Acosta put his hands on a White House aide who attempted to take away the microphone during a press conference last week.
The President’s problem is that his excuse appears insincere after years of repeated attacks on the media and CNN in particular. Since his monopolization of the political spotlight, Donald Trump has attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of CNN and the role of media in American politics. The Trump administration furthered its attempts to discredit Acosta by circulating a doctored video from InfoWars that dramatized the claims made by Sanders.
In what has become a quintessential part of his administration, the President chose to stir the pot on Friday when he said that other journalists may be subject to the same punishment as Acosta. In a broader context, the executive branch selectively barring media outlets sets an unsettling precedent.
Jim Acosta and CNN as a whole are known for being critical of the President and the President is known for being critical of CNN. With his threats of barring other journalists at his discretion, Trump is asserting a presidential authority to personally intervene with the free press.
The silencing of political critics is not a feature of outline in Article II of the Constitution and is a more common practice in countries like North Korea and Russia, whose leaders have both received praise from Trump despite their dismal track records for upholding the rights we hold dearly as Americans.
There is legal precedent surrounding the revocation of press passes. In the 1970s, a D.C. circuit court established that it is unconstitutional to remove such credentials without reason, putting the Trump administration in an awkward legal situation.
After having his credentials removed Acosta received a great deal of support from other journalists, including some conservatives who regularly criticize CNN and Acosta. Trump’s attacks on the media are not indicative of a traditional conservative ideology that holds the First Amendment high, rather, they favor an authoritarian ideology.
Prior to entering politics, Trump maintained a global profile that rarely received negative coverage in the news. He has spent virtually his entire life receiving praise for his wealth and success despite his many failures. In his role as president, Trump is subjected to a much higher level of scrutiny than he has ever had to face before, a fact made painfully obvious when he lashes out against major news organizations
Ultimately, many legal scholars believe that CNN and Acosta have grounds for their suit. While the President may not like the things that are said about him by particular media outlets, a free press is a hallmark of democracy and necessary for the function of our republic.