The Reds celebrate a Merry Christmas with a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, and we break it down. We like the aggressiveness of the front office and the additions of Wood, Puig and Kemp as well as Roark. We also debate the merits of Peraza and Winker as leadoff hitters or at least top part of the order guys. And what about another pitcher? There is no shortage of opinions on this show. And could one of our current pitchers throw like an ace at least for one season. It’s happened before, and if you’re at least 40 years old you probably remember that pitcher. So spend an hour with us and think for a while what it will be like when the weather is warm in Ohio.
Yes, we are eagerly awaiting our new starting pitchers. We’re not too picky, but they have to be good. We hope Billy Hamilton lands in a good spot in the new year. But we are intrigued to see who our new center fielder will be. Will it be Nick Senzel? Two of us want to see him there. One of us says, “Yeah, but he’s not proven.”
Complex matters don’t have simple answers. Yet, that’s the attempt by many after President Trump suspended CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s credential.
This story — which shouldn’t be a story at all — has many layers. Let’s start with the rights of the media — real and imagined.
- Freedom of the press is the linchpin in our democracy. Without it, we become a closed, oppressive society driven by unchecked propaganda. Nobody (except maybe some in power) wants that. The press has the right to report truth about the powerful wherever it finds it.
- Freedom of the press, however, does not mean anyone — including the president — ever has to grant an interview or answer a question. There’s no law for that, only common sense that says it’s in your best interests to at least act transparent. I tell students all the time to be persistent but that no one is obligated to talk to you.
- Freedom of the press does not mean reporters should make themselves the story. Citizens don’t care who you are. Probably less than one percent read bylines or remember your name after it appears for a few seconds at the bottom of their screen. Reporters have a job to do, and it’s not about becoming a celebrity or sharing your political opinions in public.
The news media and newsmakers at the national political level have a symbiotic relationship (maybe even parasitic). The press in all its forms needs access to report and tell stories, build an audience and turn a profit. The newsmakers need those outlets to carry their message. This relationship — especially in politics — is often adversarial. Sometimes it remains respectful, sometimes not. There was little respectful about the Trump-Acosta exchange.
Is it Jim Acosta’s job to ask the president tough questions? Absolutely.
Is it Trump’s prerogative to not answer or answer in any way he chooses? Absolutely.
However, I would challenge Acosta on how he asked the question about the migrant caravan. Here’s how it went:
Acosta: “I want to challenge you on one of the statements that you made in the tail end of the campaign in the mid-terms.”
Trump: “Here we go.”
Acosta: “Well, if you don’t mind Mr. President, that this caravan was an invasion.”
Trump: “I consider it to be an invasion.”
Acosta: “As you know Mr. President the caravan was not an invasion. It’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the U.S.”
Trump: “Thank you for telling me that. I appreciate it.”
Acosta: “Why did you characterize it as such?”
Trump: “Because I consider it an invasion. You and I have a difference of opinion.”
Acosta: “But do you think that you demonized immigrants in this election to try to keep …”
Trump: “No, not at all. I want them to come into the country, but they have to come in legally …”
And on it goes.
Acosta, even if he is right, made judgments about the situation before he got around to asking the question. He told the president he was wrong, and the president referred to it as Acosta’s opinion. That’s not his job. He put what he thinks out there for all to hear. People don’t care what he thinks. The question to ask is this: “Why do you describe the migrant caravan an invasion while they are still hundreds of miles from the border?”
That’s a fair question and one that should be asked. Let the people decide if Trump is right or wrong. Don’t put your credibility of being a truth-seeking reporter on the line.
So how did this happen?
- Acosta has a reputation that makes his persistence of pressing for an answer and not wanting to give up the mic not at all surprising.
- Trump is known for treating the news media with disdain to put it mildly.
- Trump also likes to give a short answer and move on to the next question. He doesn’t like followup questions, which is an interviewing strategy every reporter is taught. Followup is essential to taking an interview from the vague to the concrete. That was part of Acosta’s aim.
- And when Trump wanted to move on, the hostility in the room erupted.
News conferences are the bane of a reporter’s existence. These events are exciting once or twice for young reporters, but you quickly realize that you don’t get to ask enough questions. Newsmakers like them because they have more control over the process. You are handed the mic to ask the question then it is often taken away for someone else’s turn. There is an etiquette that Acosta didn’t follow when he held on to the mic. It’s frustrating, especially when your question is not answered directly or fully. Still, this strategy allows for news conferences to come to an abrupt end.
Obviously there is no other good logistical way for the president to meet with a press corps this size. Still, reporters much prefer one-on-ones or to work in small groups. You get more. You can ask followup. And the reporters like Acosta who ask a lot of questions don’t feel like others in the room are mooching.
Anyone who has ever covered a news conference understands the frustration Acosta and others feel in those situations. However, reporters have to accept the fact that they are not in control. You do the best job you can within the limitations.
I don’t blame Acosta for wanting to persist, but he took the bait and became the story.
- Was he trying to get his press card pulled to make a point in the way basketball coaches have been known to go after technical fouls?
- Acosta allowed Trump to say, see what I mean about these people. Many Americans are siding with Trump in his battle against the press.
- The news media is largely defending its own because the president pulled Acosta’s press card. Watch the video. You can argue that Acosta should have relinquished the microphone, but he did not put his hands on the woman in the way the president is saying.
The president will continue to treat the press this way as long as he thinks it gives him an edge with voters. But acts tend to get old. Pulling the credential will be seen as an over-the-top act with some. And the press will continue to cry foul. What does it all mean?
I think it means that a rocky relationship finally turned hostile. Where this goes from here depends on the political winds and whether or not those in the White House press corps are willing to put their credentials on the line. If it happened once, it can happen again.
Final question: Did Acosta deserve to lose his credential or be called a terrible person? No. He did break etiquette. He could have done better, but this was not an act worthy of such punishments. He’ll be back.