Politics

In the CNN vs. White House court battle, CNN and the First Amendment are going to come out on top

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump gets into an exchange with CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a news conference a day after the midterm elections on November 7, 2018 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Republicans kept the Senate majority but lost control of the House to the Democrats. (Photo by Al Drago - Pool/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump gets into an exchange with CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a news conference a day after the midterm elections on November 7, 2018, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

It started with a press conference, or what passes for one under this White House. CNN’s Jim Acosta took a more assertive than usual tack in an effort to question President Donald Trump. For that, he was kicked out, and his “hard pass” for White House access, critical to his job as CNN’s chief White House correspondent, withdrawn.

Although the entire exchange was captured on film, that didn’t stop the White House from issuing “alternative film” as we might put it. The doctored video—courtesy of Infowars’s Paul Joseph Watson—omits Acosta’s “pardon me, ma’am,” as he copes with a young woman attempting to bodily confiscate the mic, and speeds up a section so that a defensive gesture from Acosta appears aggressive.

CNN filed suit on Nov. 13 with a very clean, even elegant 18-page complaint, challenging Trump and citing his threat to withdraw others’ hard passes. CNN’s armed with a 1977 D.C. Circuit case—which is binding on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, of course, as part of the same circuit—that’s going to be tough for the White House to get around.

White House press facilities having been made publicly available as a source of information for newsmen, the protection afforded newsgathering under the first amendment guarantee of freedom of the press requires that this access not be denied arbitrarily or for less than compelling reasons.

One big takeaway when it comes to public fora and their ilk: Viewpoint discrimination is not allowed. Trump’s confirmed not just anti-media but anti-CNN bias over and over while in office. Whoops.

Let’s go one layer deeper. This 1977 case didn’t just hold that outlets generally have some right to access, but that individual reporters do—and that the public’s interest is implicated in such questions.


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