After the latest episode this week in the reality show “Jim Acosta: White House Meltdown,” it’s long past time for CNN to tell us what exactly Mr. Acosta’s actual job is.
His title is “senior White House correspondent,” but the manner in which he executes his duties betrays that label.
During Wednesday’s epic press conference, Mr. Acosta was called upon by President Trump to ask a question on behalf of his network. Mr. Acosta began by saying, “Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to challenge you on one of the statements you made during the campaign.”
“I wanted to challenge you” is not the beginning of a question; it’s the beginning of a debate. And a confrontational debate is exactly what Mr. Acosta got. It’s also pretty clear that it’s exactly what he wanted. Is it what CNN wanted?
Is the job of a White House correspondent (a “senior” one, no less) to debate the president or to ask questions of the president that will elicit information that is useful to the network’s viewers? One would suspect that the traditional definition of a correspondent or reporter would suggest that the latter job description would be more apt, but CNN seems comfortable with the former.
Most networks or publications expect their reporters at the White House to do one of two things: ask questions of the president or his surrogates and then report the answers to their viewers/readers, or build sources and access so that you can break stories and scoop your competitors on important stories about the presidency. The best White House reporters do both. It appears Mr. Acosta does neither.
What’s worse, CNN has put Mr. Acosta in the untenable position of being an on-site pundit and analyst performing a function that would be best-suited to the anchorman or the analyst back in their studio. From the early days of the Trump administration, Mr. Acosta would inject himself into the proceedings of a White House press conference.
At the conclusion of the presser, Wolf Blitzer would recap the proceedings from his studio one mile down the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Within moments, he’d go back to Mr. Acosta from the briefing room and ask him something like, “Jim, what do you make of this?” or “Jim, what do you think the White House is doing with regard to …” and then Mr. Acosta the reporter would be off the clock and Mr. Acosta the political pundit would be off and running.
The more histrionic Mr. Acosta’s actions became, the more screen time he would achieve. CNN was not only permitting and enabling his antics, but they were also rewarding them. As any parent, teacher or employer knows, actions that are rewarded are often repeated. And Mr. Acosta has repeated his actions tenfold.
So it goes to CNN to explain why they continue to place Mr. Acosta in this position. Do they still think he is serving the proper function of a White House reporter? Do they want all of their White House reporters to behave this way?
Chris Plante, a former CNN reporter for 20 years (and now a syndicated talk radio host), says that if he had behaved the way Mr. Acosta does at press conferences, he “would have been fired by CNN immediately.” Which raises another question for the network: What would Mr. Acosta have to do to actually lose his position at the White House?
Understand, I’m not advocating for Mr. Acosta to be fired. Unlike media analysts on the left (including those who work for CNN), I would not call for anyone to lose their job. But perhaps a different beat would be more suited for Mr. Acosta. If his latest escapade (complete with inappropriate, aggressive physical contact with a young female White House intern) is not enough to have his current assignment re-evaluated, what would be?
What message is CNN sending to all of their other reporters by continuing to reward Mr. Acosta with his plum assignment? Unless they want an entire bureau filled with replica Acostas confronting senators, congressmen, Cabinet secretaries or any other targets like a political activist forcing themselves into Tucker Carlson’s home, they’d better lay out exactly what their standard of behavior is.
By their silence, CNN is communicating to their current stable of journalists and a whole generation of young journalists-in-waiting that the Acosta approach is what’s expected … no, what’s demanded of a successful reporter. Is that really what they want? Is that what Mr. Acosta’s colleagues in the White House briefing room want?
I suspect not. So who in the front row of the James S. Brady Briefing Room will have the courage to say so? Who will raise his or her hand at the next press conference, rise from their seat and apologize to the president, to Sarah Huckabee Sanders and to the American people on behalf of their colleague? Who will turn to Mr. Acosta and ask, “At long last, sir, have you no shame?”
⦁ Larry O’Connor writes about politics and the media for The Washington Times and can be heard weekday afternoons on WMAL radio in Washington. Follow Larry on Twitter @LarryOConnor.