CNN's Relationship With the White House Is Only Getting Worse

Jim Acosta works and supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump -May 29, 2018- Getty-H 2018
Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Sunday, the White House canceled a scheduled interview on the network for "bad behavior."

Things seem to be taking a turn for the worse in the consistently frosty relationship between Donald Trump's administration and the cable network he most despises, CNN. "It’s a lot uglier all of a sudden," a source close to the network told The Hollywood Reporter.

Sunday appeared to be a flashpoint in the relationship, as the White House took the unusual step of canceling national security advisor John Bolton's planned appearance on Jake Tapper's Sunday morning show, State of the Union.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders placed the blame on CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who tangled with the president during a press conference on Friday after he dinged the network in response to another reporter's question.

"Instead of rewarding bad behavior, we decided to reprioritize the TV appearances for administration officials," she wrote on Twitter. 

An individual familiar with the booking process said the White House provided a similar rationale for canceling the interview in private. The network was told by a White House official that Bolton remained willing to do the interview, but the communications shop, which makes the call, decided to bail. (Instead, Bolton appeared on ABC News' Sunday morning show.)

"I think that took everybody by surprise," said a longtime senior producer at the network who added that "everybody at the network is behind Acosta 100%."

The senior producer, who was not authorized to speak publicly, called the cancellation a "normal shot across the bow" by the White House. "I would hope that this is just a bit of a tantrum on the part of the White House and they'll get over it," the person said. "But, who knows?"

Sanders was criticized heavily on Twitter for trying to punish CNN for the "bad behavior" of Acosta lobbying the president for a question. "CNN is fake news," said Trump, who instead called on a "real network," Fox News. (On Saturday, Trump bragged about his "takedown" of Acosta, criticized the network's ratings and mocked "Little Jeff Z," network president — and his former co-collaborator — Jeff Zucker.)

The source close to the network speculated that the cancellation was the work of Bill Shine, the former Fox News co-president who was recently installed as the White House's top communications staffer. David Martosko, a Daily Mail politics editor who was considered for a job on Trump's communications team, called the cancellation Shine's "first significant brushback pitch" on Twitter.

Sanders did not respond to a request for comment on the cancellation and the administration's relationship with CNN.

There have been few bright spots in the relationship between the White House and CNN. Acosta, the network's most publicly combative correspondent, is regularly mocked and berated by Sanders, who during a June 14 press briefing told him, "I know it's hard for you to understand even short sentences."

"Jim Acosta is one of the finest reporters I know, and he has had to suffer a variety of insults from this administration," said Brian Karem, a White House correspondent for Playboy magazine and a CNN contributor. "Still, he shows up everyday and does his job. He should be commended for that, not belittled."

Trump's administration generally steers clear of the network, with the exception of counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, who has a long-standing friendship with now-primetime anchor Chris Cuomo.

While CNN generally bears the brunt of the Trump administration's wrath, Karem said the entire industry regularly takes a beating. "Their goal is to disrupt and diminish the free press so they can promote their propaganda," he said. "This administration doesn’t treat anyone fairly, including those Trump claims to like."