White House suspends CNN reporter’s press pass, leading to lawsuit

In November 2018, CNN’s chief White House correspondent had his White House press pass suspended after a contentious encounter with President Donald Trump. CNN sued the White House and won a temporary restoration of the press pass before getting it back permanently, though not without added conditions.

Key Players

Jim Acosta is CNN’s chief White House correspondent. Acosta had been a target of criticism from the president even before his temporary suspension. Trump has repeatedly accused CNN and Acosta of reporting misinformation, or “fake news.”

Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States. He has been criticized for, among other things, his hostile attitude toward the media and his denunciation of journalists as “enemies of the people.”

Timothy J. Kelly, a judge appointed by Trump to sit on the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., ruled against the president in the initial stages of the case.

Further Details

During a Nov. 7, 2018 White House news conference, Acosta pushed back on Trump’s description of a caravan of migrants heading toward the United States, after fleeing violence in Central America, as an “invasion.”

Trump rejected Acosta’s characterization of these comments as anti-immigrant and sought repeatedly to cut him off by calling on other reporters. But Acosta persisted and attempted to ask a question about the ongoing investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.

At this point, a White House intern stepped forward to take the microphone from Acosta, who refused to surrender it despite the intern’s best efforts. Trump repeatedly told Acosta to “put down the mic” during the physical struggle, but it was not until Trump began railing against CNN and calling Acosta a “rude, terrible person” that the reporter finally relented.

Although critics cited the president’s behavior as an example of his antipathy toward the press, the administration framed Acosta’s actions as insubordinate and disrespectful.

Hours later, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced that the White House would be suspending Acosta’s “hard pass,” which is the press credential that gives him access to the executive mansion. Sanders said the White House “would never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern” and called the incident “absolutely unacceptable.”

The revocation of Acosta’s press credentials only exacerbated the public backlash from Free Speech advocates, including the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA).

The association wrote in a statement that it “strongly objects to the Trump Administration’s decision to use US Secret Service security credentials as a tool to punish a reporter with whom it has a difficult relationship” and called the actions “unacceptable.”

A day after revoking Acosta’s press pass, Sanders shared on Twitter a doctored video of the incident, which appeared to show Acosta being physically aggressive toward the intern, according to The Washington Post.


After CNN sues White House, judge temporarily restores press pass

On Nov. 13, CNN sued the Trump administration, seeking the restoration of Acosta’s press pass. The lawsuit alleged violations of the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees due process. It requested an immediate order reinstating Acosta’s credentials. To the surprise of many, the suit was joined by Fox News, which is strongly supportive of the president.

On Nov. 16, Kelly granted CNN’s request for a temporary restoration of Acosta’s press credentials, allowing him back into the White House. Though the ruling represented a win for CNN, the broader issue of access will be settled in future cases, according to The New York Times.

White House restores press pass, issues strict guidelines for reporters

On Nov. 19, the White House announced it would formally restore Acosta’s press pass, leading CNN to drop its suit.

However, along with returning Acosta’s pass, the administration issued new rules regulating reporters at the White House, according to The New York Times. They restrict reporters to only one question at a time and will permit follow-up questions only at the discretion of the president or an administration official.

“Failure to abide,” the administration warned, “may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist’s hard pass.”

The WHCA said it had not been consulted prior to the ruling’s release. After news of it broke, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the association, saying it had allowed the White House to “avoid real scrutiny.”