The White House permanently restored the press pass of a CNN correspondent this week, ending a spat over his behavior at a presidential news conference but leaving unresolved legal questions about the president’s relationship with journalists.
CNN had sued the White House for revoking correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credentials earlier this month after he refused to give up the microphone at the end of his turn during a news conference. A federal judge ordered his access temporarily restored before the White House chose to drop the matter, ending a likely legal battle to determine whether the revocation violated Acosta’s constitutional rights, including his First Amendment right to free speech or his Fifth Amendment right to due process.
The showdown between Acosta and President Donald Trump “was like a staged caged match” in which both sides sought to play to their own audiences, said Al Tompkins, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training and education center.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who granted a temporary restraining order to restore Acosta’s press pass, said the White House’s decision lacked transparency, and CNN was likely to succeed in its claim that the reporter’s due process rights had been violated.
Other media outlets, including Fox News, backed CNN out of fear that efforts to target individual journalists could spread, Tompkins told me, adding such concerns are “far less likely now because of the storm that followed.”
The conclusion of the legal fight leaves unanswered whether those First Amendment challenges would hold up in court. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University said it looked like the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass because of his viewpoint challenging the president. The institute said it believed CNN would prevail on First Amendment grounds if the suit were to go forward.
“The court observed that a decision to deny press credentials based on the content of the journalist’s speech would raise serious constitutional questions,” the institute said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the White House sought to limit similar incidents in the future by issuing new rules limiting reporters to one question during presidential news conferences, but the White House Correspondents Association said it expected journalists would continue the tradition of posing follow-up questions. —Anne K. Walters