Opinion: Jim Acosta and the Fight for Democracy

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Losing sucks. It’s a universal truth. And if you’re like President Donald Trump, losing can send you spiraling into a state of panic and seemingly unhinged anger towards anyone and everyone. Unfortunately for Jim Acosta, CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, he was a target for Trump’s temper tantrum at the post-midterm press conference Wednesday afternoon.

After a tense exchange between the reporter and the president, Trump repeatedly told Acosta to sit down. While a White House intern attempted to take the microphone away from Acosta, the veteran reporter fielded a question about the Russia probe.

“Mr. President, are you worried about indictments coming down in this investigation?” Acosta asked.

Trump then lambasted Acosta with attacks on the quality of his work and the content of his character, telling the reporter, “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you work for them” and that he was a “rude and terrible person.” I’ll leave it to the reader to find the irony here.

After this exchange, Acosta reported later Wednesday night that his press credentials had been revoked.

Before going further, it’s important to note that revoking a reporter’s privilege is within Trump’s power. Considering Acosta’s rigorous questioning at press conferences and Trump’s disdain for accountability and telling the truth, it’s surprising to me that Acosta has only just now lost his credentials. Acosta has frequently been a thorn in the side of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders and has gained notoriety for the backlash he has received from the White House for doing his job.

Later that night came another twist that no one saw coming. Acosta became the focus of a viral, doctored video that showed the exchange between him and the female intern that was attempting to grab the microphone from him.

In the actual exchange, Acosta moved his arm up to block the intern’s hand. However, the edited video, allegedly created by a worker at Infowars, slows down the movement of the intern and speeds up Acosta’s, making it appear that the reporter forcefully pushed her away, and edited out Acosta’s “excuse me, ma’am,” instead silencing the audio completely.

I have made the editorial decision to not include the video in this article, as it is fake. However, if you want to find it, just go to Press Secretary Sanders’ Twitter feed. On Wednesday night, Sanders shared the video to her 3.46 million followers on her official Press Secretary account, using it as a justification for revoking Acosta’s credentials:

“We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s [Acosta’s] hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video.”

It’s interesting that this administration will shout until they are blue in the face about the epidemic of “fake news,” unless of course the fake news works in their favor. Perhaps more interesting are the cries of “assault” from an administration whose leader proudly declared that he grabs women by their genitals without their consent.

While I feel for Acosta, who now has an extra roadblock in doing his job, he is a small piece in a large, terrifying puzzle regarding how this administration treats reporters who dare question them.

What is most troubling about this incident is the confidence in which the White House shared this doctored video. In a world where we have immediate information at our fingertips, this administration had to have known that it would soon be uncovered that the video was doctored. And yet, they seem to know their base well enough to know that many of them wouldn’t care. Anything to justify the means, even if “anything” is lying.

Not only is this immoral, it is a direct threat to democracy.

Since the inauguration in 2016, the “1984” comparisons to the Trump administration have been beaten to death. But in the wake of this latest scandal, a particular quote from the Orwell novel comes to mind:

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

The White House knew the video Sanders shared would be outed as “fake.” They had to have. They also had to have known that truth-seekers would publish side-by-side comparisons, proving the video to be fake.

And they shared it anyway, and this is how it starts.

First it’s Acosta. Then it’s CNN. Then it’s someone else, then another network or publication. When the government decides who gets to report, the American people lose. When the government tells you to not believe what you are clearly seeing in front of you, the American people are left in the dark.

At the time of publishing, the White House Correspondents’ Association has publicly denounced President Trump’s actions against Acosta.

This isn’t a simple case of reporters being biased. Personally, I have agreed and disagreed with politicians on both sides of the aisle. When I felt an issue was important enough, I have publicly voiced disagreement with politicians on both sides.

This isn’t about politics. This is about democracy. At certain points in history, there were times when staying neutral meant siding with the oppressor. In these times, men and women used the rights that were granted to them as Americans shed light on what our leaders were doing.

Edward Murrow had McCarthy. Woodward and Bernstein had Nixon. Dan Rather had George W. Bush. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras had Barack Obama.

And we have Donald Trump.

Just like any other administration, journalists have an obligation to stand up for the freedoms that make what we do possible. We have an obligation to tell truths that our leaders don’t want us to. We have an obligation to keep Americans informed and engaged with what is happening in our country.

With Jim Acosta being barred access from the White House, the Trump administration sharing propaganda, and as President Trump warns that he may not be the last reporter stripped of his clearance, journalists have an obligation to fight back against an administration that is dead-set on dismantling our democracy as we know it.

It’s not to preserve our image after being called “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.”

It’s to preserve America and our democracy.

In late October, Americans were bombarded with stories of government officials and public figures--all of whom were deemed to be "enemies of President Trump"--being targeted by a domestic terrorist aiming to send them pipe bombs in the mail. The targets included the Obama family, Bill and Hillary Clinton, actor Robert DeNiro and the New York headquarters of CNN.

After a mysterious package was delivered, the headquarters was immediately evacuated, and the reporters began doing their jobs from the street.

While thankfully none of the potential targets were harmed, this attack, allegedly carried out by Cesar Sayoc of Florida, it was a direct threat to our country and system of government. If any American feels that by speaking the truth, or even speaking their mind, that they are at risk of being killed, we do not have freedom of speech.

When reporters are silenced, the country is left in darkness. When the government gets to dictate what is truth and what is fiction, nothing can be proven or disproved. It is one thing for readers to decide whether or not they believe a source, but when the American government wages a war against the free press, they are waging a war against American democracy.

If we want to preserve this democracy of ours, we have to adamantly defend the rights promised to us in our Constitution.

If we allow freedom of the press to die, it’s just a matter of time before the rest of our rights follow.

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