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Thuillier: Revoking Jim Acosta’s press credentials is a gross overstep

Marcus Thuillier, Op-Ed Contributor

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Last Thursday, the White House showed once again that they are tiptoeing the line between democracy and authoritarianism.

After a heated exchange between Trump and CNN’s Jim Acosta, a White House aide was ordered to take away Acosta’s microphone and the White House announced it had revoked the reporter’s credentials.

As a justification, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put forward that Acosta had assaulted the mentioned aide. Seeing as no charges had been brought against Acosta for assault, the White House’s move would have been a questionable even if the allegations were true. But it was soon revealed that the footage of the incident Sanders posted on her account had been doctored to make Acosta seem more aggressive in his actions. All of this coming from an administration intent on taking down “fake news.”

There are several layers to what happened. First, Acosta was doing his job. While President Trump has personal beef with CNN for whatever reason, Acosta is allowed to ask these questions regardless of which newspaper he’s representing. As Frank LaMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, puts it, “The government cannot take away even a purely discretionary privilege if the motive is to penalize speech.” Who would have thought that infringing on a reporter’s freedom of speech is unconstitutional?

The more concerning aspect of this story is Sanders’ use of doctored footage to lie to the American people. The video she shared has clearly been sped up to portray a defensive movement by Acosta as something more, lamenting that he had been violent towards someone from the White House staff. Altering this footage and using it as a tool of propaganda is a concerning step the government has taken to mislead the American people. As someone who strongly believes that having the government accurately represent facts is paramount for a democracy, this is completely frightening.

Trump has crossed the line. According to a 1977 case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the White House seems to have violated Acosta’s first amendment rights by not giving him proper notice of the revoking of his credentials and not giving him the chance to formally rebut them. Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told The Atlantic, “Once the government creates the kind of forum that it has created, like the White House briefing room, it can’t selectively include or exclude people on the basis of ideology or viewpoint.” The United States now has a president with no regard for legal precedent, especially when it comes to the U.S. constitution, an alarming reality just halfway through Trump’s first mandate.

Trump’s attacks on a free press are not new; they have become the norm. But his administration has crossed the line in punishing a journalist for asking questions and doing his job. By cutting Acosta’s access and altering video footage to justify it, Trump and his aides are inching dangerously close to authoritarianism by chipping away at a crucial component of democracy: a free and independent press.

Marcus Thuillier is a first-year graduate student. He can be contacted at marcusthuillier2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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