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White House-Acosta feud is talk of town

The Hill logo The Hill 5 days ago Brett Samuels
a man wearing a suit and tie: CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, left, and U.S. president Donald Trump. © Getty Image CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, left, and U.S. president Donald Trump.

The White House's decision to revoke CNN correspondent Jim Acosta's press credentials and its controversial defense for the action was the talk of the Washington, D.C., media on Thursday, though the discussion was muted on his own network.

Arguments swelled on social media, MSNBC and Fox News about the White House's decision and its subsequent explanation for pulling his permanent press pass.

Acosta's Twitter account also went quiet for most of the day, save for a few retweets in the morning and a reporting nugget in the early evening.

CNN declined to comment to The Hill about whether Acosta intends to request day-to-day credentials, or whether the network is weighing legal action against the White House.

CNN's anchors and panelists appeared to avoid broaching the subject on air for most of Thursday, though CNN made its views clear on Twitter.

The network thanked The New York Times for an editorial criticizing the White House over its decision to pull Acosta's pass. "We agree," CNN wrote on Twitter.

CNN's vice president for communications and digital partnerships Matt Dornic also retweeted a series of messages from journalists and news outlets criticizing the White House decision on Twitter.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday afternoon tripled down on the press office's decision to pull Acosta's credentials on the basis of an interaction with a White House intern during a press conference.

"The question is: did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear, he did. We stand by our statement," Sanders said in a statement.

Sanders on Wednesday night accused Acosta of "placing his hands" on a White House intern, and withdrew his hard pass to the White House as a result. She later tweeted out a video purportedly supporting her claim, but experts noted the video appeared to have been doctored to accentuate Acosta's movements.

Multiple reporters in the room refuted Sanders' allegations. They noted that Acosta brushed the staffer's arm as she reached to take the microphone from him, and observed that the video she shared originated with a contributor to the far-right conspiracy theory website Infowars.

Sanders's statement on Thursday did not address allegations that the video she shared to support the decision was doctored. She did not respond to questions from The Hill about the video, or whether Acosta would be granted a White House pass on a daily or weekly basis.

Media organizations rallied in support of Acosta and condemned the White House's actions, though it remains unclear if any journalists will boycott future press events in response.

"Journalists should be able to do their job without fear that a tough series of questions will provoke retaliation," said Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director for the Committee to Project Journalists. "The White House should immediately reinstate Jim Acosta's press pass, and refrain from punishing reporters by revoking their access - that's not how a free press works."

The White House News Photographers Association said it was "appalled" that Sanders may have shared manipulated video.

"Knowingly sharing manipulated images is equally problematic, particularly when the person is a representative of our country's highest office with vast influence over public opinion," the organization said in a statement.

The New York Times editorial board penned a column on Thursday titled "Let Jim Acosta Do His Job."

Two Washington Post columnists - right-leaning columnist Jennifer Rubin and media columnist Margaret Sullivan - both penned columns on Thursday suggesting CNN should sue the White House on First Amendment grounds.

Acosta also found support on Capitol Hill, where a handful of Democrats and a prominent Republican rebuked the White House's decision.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) chastised Acosta for his behavior, claiming he "regularly showboats to make himself the story," but suggested the White House had gone too far.

"I don't think they should revoke (Acosta's) WH pass," he wrote on Twitter. "Revoking press access for being rude is a very slippery slope."

Democrats likened the move to authoritarian regimes and urged the White House to restore Acosta's credentials.

"Doctoring video to give a leader the excuse to get rid of a critic is a practice of dictatorships, not democracies," Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) tweeted.

"Trump's attack on the free press should not be tolerated by any news agencies or the American people," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted. "I hope White House reporters don't go about business as usual until Jim is back in his seat.

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