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The Present

Why allowing governments to single out reporters sets a dangerous precedent

New York Times reporter Melissa Chan outlined in a Twitter thread how authoritarian governments strategically destroy the reputations of journalists they dislike.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Key Takeaways
  • CNN reporter Jim Acosta has frequently locked horns with President Donald Trump during press briefings.
  • On Wednesday, Acosta and Trump had a standoff that ended with the White House revoking the reporter's press badge.
  • White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders issued a tweet saying Acosta had placed his hands on an intern who tried to take the microphone away from him, a claim which many rebuked.

The White House revoked the press badge of CNN reporter Jim Acosta following a heated exchange with President Donald Trump during a press conference on Wednesday.

At the press conference, Acosta tried to ask the president multiple questions about the migrant caravan and the Russia probe. The president soon grew irritated with Acosta’s line of questioning, and a White House intern approached the reporter to take away the microphone.

In a video of the event, Acosta’s arm makes contact with the aide’s arm as he refuses to cede the microphone.

BREAKING: President Trump, CNN Correspondent Jim Acosta and @NBCNews Correspondent @PeterAlexander engage in tense exchanges in post-election news conference.pic.twitter.com/WUlXemGn7y

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White House press secretary Sarah Sanders suggested in a tweet that Acosta had become aggressive during the standoff.

President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern…

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Later, Sanders tweeted a video of the encounter that highlights what she called “inappropriate behavior.” However, the video appears to contain extra frames compared to the original C-SPAN recording, and she’s since been criticized for spreading a video that was, seemingly, doctored to exaggerate the severity of the encounter.

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Some journalists, even critics of CNN, came out in defense of Acosta following Sanders’ suggestion that he became physical with the White House intern.

Plenty to criticize Acosta about, but he did not “place his hands” on the intern. It’s ridiculous for anyone to suggest he did. And after Trump joked about Gianforte bodyslamming Ben Jacobs the White House can’t bust out the fainting couch now.https://twitter.com/PressSec/status/1060333176252448768 …

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Revoking of press pass of @CNN’s Jim @Acosta by @WhiteHouse is regrettable. Journalists must be allowed to ask probing questions and hold leaders to account. Call for it to be reversed and not to call journalists enemy of the people. #USA

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I was seated next to ⁦@Acosta⁩ at today’s press conference and did not witness him “placing his hands” on the young intern, as the White House alleges. He held on to the microphone as she reached for it. The ⁦@Reuters⁩ pictures below depict what happened accurately.pic.twitter.com/nO68Hf4eQM

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How governments tactically destroy reporters’ reputations

Melissa Chan, a New York Times journalist who in 2012 was expelled from China after her reporting angered government officials, took to Twitter on Thursday morning to outline why she believes journalists should hang together, or else they’ll “hang separately.”

BY THE WAY WHITE HOUSE REPORTERS: Something foreign correspondents in places like Beijing and Moscow have learned: Hang together, or else you’ll hang separately. My peers supported me when I got expelled from China. That stuff matters.

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Chan cautioned that sitting by while an administration destroys the reputation of a particular journalist will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in the future.

Right now, they’re singling out @Acosta. But tomorrow it’ll be Journalist X. And later Journalist Y and Z. It can happen very quickly. And of course, there’s always something wrong with the reporter. They’ll go back ten years to find something you misreported if they have to.

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