POLITICS

White House Correspondents' Association Snubs Comedians

The WHCA will not invite a comedian to speak at the 2019 dinner due to "unusual moment" in history when Trump's threats to freedom of the press aren't funny.

According to The White House Correspondents' Association, tensions between the press and the Trump Administration are nothing to joke about. This year's annual fundraising dinner, which traditionally invites a comedian to roast the president and the press corps, will instead feature Ron Chernow, noted biographer of Alexander Hamilton, as its speaker.

Oliver Knox, the association's president, announced Chernow's selection on Monday, stating, "As we celebrate the importance of a free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history."

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Ironically, it's Trump's expected absence from the event that worries the association. Another facet of the annual tradition is for the seated president to speak first, jest with the press corps and perhaps poke fun at himself, and then the comedian parries back in their own speech. However, Trump has declined to attend the last two years, giving no indication that he plans to appear at the April 27th event with Chernow. Knox has noted that the president's absence can skew the tone of the room into feeling antagonistic toward the current administration, rather than a good-humored acknowledgement of differences.

In fact, last year's event (sans Trump) featured Michelle Wolf, who incurred the president's wrath and general backlash for her remarks. For instance, Wolf singled out White House reporters for empowering Trump, stating, "You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him." Later Trump took to Twitter to denounce Wolf as a "filthy 'comedian'."

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This year, Chernow is clarifying that "he's never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian," but he's aware of the "unusual moment" Knox speaks of, in terms of the fraught relationship between the Trump administration and the press. High points of tension include the widely publicized legal battle between CNN and the White House after CNN correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass was revoked and then reinstated by a judge after his network took the matter to court.

Stuck in the middle, Chernow released a statement, "The White House Correspondents' Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige. Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory."

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung

POLITICS

CNN Fights for Freedom of Speech and Due Process in Trump Lawsuit

The White House's decision to ban CNN's Jim Acosta is "dangerous" and "unprecedented."

CNN is suing President Trump in response to his administration's widely-disparaged ban and smear campaign of the media network's Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta.

The White House revoked Acosta's Secret Service "hard pass" in a decades-long breach of protocol last Wednesday night, preventing the journalist from accessing press-friendly spaces on White House grounds. Pointing to the First and Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit alleges that both Acosta and CNN's rights were violated by the suspension of these privileges.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, CNN announced that it filed its lawsuit in a DC District Court against six people, including the president, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, Chief of Staff John Kelly, Kelly's deputy William Shine, the U.S. Secret Service and its director Randolph Alles, as well as "John Doe," the currently-unidentified agent who denied Acosta access to the grounds. The defendants are named because of their roles in enforcing and announcing Acosta's suspension.

The lawsuit "demands the return of the White House credentials of CNN's Chief White House correspondent," according to the statement. "The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta's First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process. We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process."

CNN's legal actions are the latest step in an escalating battle between President Trump and the media. Trump has shown particular antipathy to CNN, regularly deriding its reporters and the network as a whole. In light of the president going as far as to call the press "the enemy of the American people," it is fitting for there to be a lawsuit on the books titled "CNN vs. President Trump."

The White House responded to CNN's complaint in a statement by press secretary Sarah Sanders, accusing CNN of "grandstanding" by suing, and saying the administration "will vigorously defend against this lawsuit." Sanders previously alleged (in a tweet that is still live) that Acosta placed his hands on a female White House intern during a heated exchange with Trump last Wednesday.

"Mr. Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment," said Sanders. "After Mr. Acosta asked the President two questions—each of which the President answered—he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters."

Trump's warlike stance against journalists, and his specific action to ban Acosta, flies in the face of decades of tradition and precedent. White House administrations on both sides of the aisle have sought to be accommodating of the press, erring on the side of inclusion, even for non-mainstream outlets. The well-known First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams thinks CNN has a strong case in the precedent set by the 1977 ruling in favor of Robert Sherrill, a conservative journalist who was also denied access to the White House.

Furthermore, federal guidelines require that "officials of the Secret Service will be guided solely by the principle of whether the applicant presents a potential source of physical danger to the President and/or the family of the President so serious as to justify his or her exclusion from White House press privileges." The administration has made no claims that Acosta presents a physical danger to Trump during his press briefings.

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Abrams points out that those denied press privileges, "have to have notice… a chance to respond, and… a written opinion by the White House as to what it's doing and why, so the courts can examine it." He adds that, "We've had none of those things [in Trump's banning of Acosta]," giving weight to CNN's claim of due process violation.

As noted in CNN's statement, "While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone. If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."

CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker emphasized the importance of taking action in an internal memo. "This is not a step we have taken lightly. But the White House action is unprecedented," Zucker said.

Joshua Smalley is a New York-based writer, editor, and playwright. Find Josh at his website and on Twitter: @smalleywrites.

POLITICS

In Un-American Move, White House Bans CNN Correspondent

The White House revokes CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass with "fraudulent accusations" of assault.

Trump's vilification of the press as "an enemy of the people" reached a crescendo on Wednesday when CNN's chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta was banned from the property "until further notice." The dismissal followed a heated exchange between him and Trump during a press conference.

Acosta first shared on Twitter that he'd been barred from the White House grounds.

During a press conference earlier that day, Acosta questioned Trump's description of the migrant caravan approaching the US border from Central America as an "invasion." He then baldly asked about Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election, to which the president opted to lob insults at Acosta and CNN, including calling Acosta a "rude, terrible person."

Trump prevented the reporter from asking follow up questions, declaring, "That's enough" and, "Put down the mic!" A female aide approached and attempted to physically wrestle the microphone away from Acosta. This was the contentious point that Press Secretary Sarah Huckerbee Sanders referred to on Twitter after confirming that Acosta's press access had been revoked. Sanders claimed the decision was the result of him putting "his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern."

Shamefully, Sanders followed up by posting a clip of doctored footage from the incident. Paul Joseph Watson, editor of the infamously fallacious Infowars website, edited and shared the video on Twitter before Sanders posted it, stating, "We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video."

Acosta simply posted his response to the accusation as "a lie," as accurate footage of the press conference clearly shows his lack of aggression towards the intern. CNN has responded on Twitter by condemning Trump's "disturbingly un-American" attacks on the press and asserting that they "stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere." They've also posted undoctored footage of the exchange "for the world to see."

In addition, CNN denounced the White House's decision and Sanders' "fraudulent accusations." In a statement, they asserted that Acosta's ban "was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference. In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better."

While Fox News reporter Chris Wallace agreed that Acosta's actions were "shameful," the White House Correspondents' Association finds Acosta's ban "unacceptable." In a statement, they urge the White House to "immediately reverse this weak and misguided action."

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Trump and his administration have an infamous history of combating the press. In October, the writers organization and free speech advocacy group PEN America filed to sue President Trump in federal court "to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes."

Neither Sarah Sanders nor the White House has made further comment on Acosta's press credentials since Wednesday.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.