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Beyond sending angry tweets, how can White House reporters express disapproval with the administration’s decision Wednesday to suspend CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass? And should they?
Some in the media have suggested that the press corps take some sort of collective action against the White House, either by boycotting the (supposedly) daily press briefings or abstaining from pool sprays with the president. CBS News White House reporter Major Garrett said Wednesday night that reporters should “lock arms,” but “just a little bit.”
But Brian Karem, who has gained fame for his clashes with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, does not support such a strategy.
“That’s garbage,” the CNN contributor told The Hollywood Reporter when asked about a briefing boycott. “You [don’t react to] this by stepping away from the briefing room. You step through the door and ask more questions. You continue to press. The White House would like nothing more than for us all to leave. Anyone who advocates for some kind of protest has abdicated their role as a reporter.”
Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary for former President Bill Clinton and is also a CNN contributor, said that collective action is unwise and unlikely.
“I don’t think they’ll boycott or anything like that,” he said in an email. “They undermine their own credibility as independent if they get together to take collective action.”
Fox News host Chris Wallace said Thursday that Acosta “embarrassed himself” at the press briefing. “We do have to stick together,” he said. “But, I gotta say, Jim Acosta makes it awfully hard to have journalistic solidarity on something like this.” (Acosta did not respond to a request for comment.)
“I think every White House press briefing could begin with whomever has the first question asking: ‘When is Jim Acosta going to have his credentials restored?'” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN White House correspondent who now teaches media at George Washington University.
Sesno also said that media executives in Washington, D.C., should be calling powerful associates and lobbying for action. “If we are all operating in the belief that we should have access to those in power, then it’s in everyone’s interest to be sure that this is not a precedent,” he said.
In 2009, the broadcast networks defended Fox News when the Obama administration attempted to exclude the cable network from a round-robin interview from an official. (Acosta has been pilloried across Fox News since his clash with President Trump on Wednesday morning, though media reporter Howard Kurtz called aspects of the White House’s statement a “misstep.”)
Karem pointed out the structural and competitive impediments at play: “The competitive nature of the press is that we aren’t going to all agree in unison to do anything.” The president understands that and is “counting on us to fight each other.”
The White House’s decision to suspend Acosta is the most draconian action taken against a beat reporter, though Karem said there have been previous rumblings about similar moves.
“I’m still surprised I have my press pass, to be quite honest with you,” he said.
Sesno said it could be a while before the situation is resolved. “Donald Trump loves a fight and I fear that this is something that could defy early resolution,” he said.
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