President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May held a joint press conference today in the UK. After brief statements, Trump and May spent about a half hour taking questions from a large group of assembled media. In the midst of an otherwise orderly press conference, CNN’s Jim Acosta demanded he be given a chance to ask a question. President Trump refused, calling CNN “fake news.”
The way the Q & A worked was very orderly. “We’re going to take four questions each,” Prime Minister May said at the beginning. She then selected the first journalist from the crowd to ask a question, which turned out to be a reporter from BBC News. After May and Trump answered that question, President Trump selected the next reporter (from Axios). After that, Theresa May selected a reporter from the London Times. Back and forth the selection went.
Trump picked a reporter from NBC News who asked if his comments about NATO weren’t giving Putin the upper hand. Trump didn’t like the question and began his answer, “See that’s such dishonest reporting because…Of course, it happens to be NBC which is possibly worse than CNN.” He then went on to give a full answer which he concluded by saying, “The headline [Putin] sees isn’t the headline that’s happening during the morning [of the Nato summit]. The headline he sees is what happened in the afternoon where we came together as one, they’re putting up billions of dollars more…Do you think Putin’s happy about that? I don’t think so.”
PM May then selected a reporter from ITV for the next question. That meant the next reporter would be selected by Trump, so as soon as he’d finished answer the previous question from ITV, CNN’s Jim Acosta piped up: “Mr. President, since you attacked CNN, can I ask you a question?” Trump ignored this and said, “John Roberts, go ahead, John.”
Let’s just point out that when he has been asked about shouting at the President in the past, Acosta has claimed that he always does things in a way that doesn’t interrupt or disrupt whatever event he’s covering. That’s not the case here. No other reporter verbally asked for a question in this press conference, only Acosta. And once Trump had selected John Roberts, Acosta still didn’t let it go. Now he’s actually arguing with the President about his selection
“Can I ask you a question about taxes,” Acosta persisted.
“No, no,” Trump replied, “John Roberts, go ahead.” Trump then added, “CNN is fake news. I don’t take questions…”
“Well, sir, if you’re going to call us fake news can you take a question from CNN?” Acosta said, talking over Trump.
Trump repeated himself louder this time, “CNN is fake news. I don’t take questions from CNN. John Roberts of Fox. Let’s go to a real network.”
“Well, we’re a real network too, sir,” Acosta said, getting in the last word before John Roberts finally asked his question.
I’m very sympathetic to the idea that the President shouldn’t be singling out a news network and refusing to give them questions. I didn’t like it when the Obama administration did it to Fox News and I don’t like it here. Afterward, Fox News John Roberts put out a statement about what happened.
Here is the statement from Fox News’s John Roberts, who was selected by Trump to ask a question after CNN’s Jim Acosta was dissed. pic.twitter.com/Wp4PDIP4xg
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) July 13, 2018
A couple of things. First, it’s interesting that Roberts defended CNN in general but not Acosta in particular. Maybe that says something. Second, as you can see from my description above, Erik Wemple’s tweet is wrong about the timeline. John Roberts was selected before Trump made a comment about CNN. Only after Acosta insisted on arguing with the president’s pick did Trump make his “fake news” comment. In fact, Trump had called on Roberts twice and Acosta kept arguing with him.
Again, I’m on board with everything Roberts said, but Acosta is not behaving like any other reporter at this press conference. He’s speaking when he wasn’t called on and even after the president called on another reporter by name, he’s arguing with the president about the choice as if it’s owed to him. Until he tried to take over, things were proceeding in an orderly fashion.
There shouldn’t be a rule that CNN doesn’t ever get to ask the president questions. I’m against that just as I was under Obama. But there also shouldn’t be a rule that CNN reporters get to bully and demand a question at every event when there are 30 reporters and only eight questions.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Acosta did eventually get a question in. Once the presser was over and Trump and May were walking away from the podium’s he shouted to Trump, “Will you tell Putin to stay out of US elections.” Trump leaned back and replied, “Yes.”
Here’s the main exchange between Trump and Acosta. Skip to the very end of this if you want to see Acosta’s final question: