Jim Acosta’s suspension was a step too far

Jim Acosta’s suspension was a step too far

US President Donald Trump’s war with the media began as a tactic to bolster support for his candidacy in the 2016 election. But what started as fairly empty rhetoric has escalated into something more ugly than perhaps President Trump anticipated, moving beyond mere words to actions. And now, with the suspension of CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, the war has certainly taken a dangerous turn, and the broader West should be concerned.

It is important to note that many in the media have cashed in on Trump’s antics, reporting on things which aren’t really newsworthy or are exaggerated, misleading, or even false; and that includes the CNN. This is something I have been cautious of in my young journalistic career, because the whole point of political journalism is to report the facts and hold government accountable. Being the first to break a story is not as important as ensuring the story is true.

Having said that, more often than not the media has reported on the Trump Administration accurately. Trump often criticises the media for not reporting his government’s achievements, but that simply isn’t the case.

Consider these two headlines:

  1. “American steel production increases by 3%”
  2. “Trump tells Spain to build a wall across the Sahara to stop migrants”

Both are true, but which one is more likely to go viral? If President Trump wants less negative attention, then it’s up to him to stop attracting it. As I said, the media doesn’t exist to compliment governments. The reality is, he doesn’t want to to stop attracting controversy, because it’s part of his political brand.

Returning to Jim Acosta, this is a serious pickle, because all he did was ask genuine questions that made Trump feel uncomfortable. The Trump Administration responded by confiscating Acosta’s White House press pass, and then slandering him by using doctored footage to accuse him of threatening an intern.

The doctored video has been traced back to a far-right conspiracy theorist, which itself isn’t surprising. Sarah Sanders tweeting the video is slightly surprising, however. As a PR man, I understand Sanders’ role involves a bit of spin, but this is a whole new level.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also said the video was not doctored, but just “sped up” a little. This is despite video editing experts confirming the footage was altered, and a visible difference between what Sanders tweeted and the original C-SPAN footage.

Regardless of what you or I may think of CNN and Jim Acosta, he was there doing his job, and how he has been treated is totally unacceptable. Unacceptable in that in a Western democracy — particularly the United States, which constantly bangs on about how great it is — journalists are not punished for asking questions.

What this saga tells us is that there are people within the Trump Administration who are willing to lie for the President to justify anti-democratic behaviour. They are willing to sacrifice their credibility and dignity for Trump — and that is dangerous.

On top of that, if the midterms are anything to go by, around half of the American population are supportive of the Trump Administration and the direction of the GOP. And that’s fine — only the US should determine its direction, just as the rest of world should determine theirs. However, the US should not expect its position in the world, specifically in the West, to remain unchanged.

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