On Monday afternoon, the White House released a series of brief but simple guidelines for journalists in light of CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s carnival-barking at not only press conferences with the President, but a pattern of bombastic, self-centered behavior that resulted in a ten-day legal standoff that began on November 7.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sent out the guidelines concerning the parameters of one initial question and, if granted permission by the President or whoever is speaking, a followup question before yielding to other reporters.
Sanders began with the admission that they had “notified Jim Acosta and CNN that his hard pass has been restored,” but provided the caveat that he was also informed that there will be “certain rules” implemented “with a degree of regret” to “govern White House press conferences going forward.”
Here are the four points in their totality:
- “A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and then will yield the floor to other journalists;
- At the discretion of the President or other White House official taking questions, a follow-up question or questions may be permitted; and where a follow up has been allowed and asked, the questioner will then yield the floor;
- ‘Yielding the floor’ includes, when applicable, physically surrendering the microphone to White House staff for use by the next questioner;
- Failure to abide by any of rules (1)-(3) may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist’s hard pass.”
Bolstering the point that there are, at a minimum, dozens of other White House reporters who are able to ask tough questions without being egotistical, Sanders noted how: “For years, members of the White House press corps have attended countless press events with the President and other officials without engaging in the behavior Mr. Acosta displayed at the November 7, 2018 press conference.”
She conceded that “[w]e would have greatly preferred to continue hosting White House press conferences in reliance on a set of understood professional norms, and we believe the overwhelming majority of journalists covering the White House share that preference,” but CNN’s behavior has led the White House to “feel obligated to replace previously shared practices with explicit rules.”
The statement then concluded by pointing out how these rules do not include non-press conference interactions and “would be a great loss for all” if lengthier and more restrictive rules would have to be put in place (click “expand”):
We are mindful that a more elaborate and comprehensive set of rules might need to be devised, including, for example, for a journalist in the open (non-press room) areas inside and outside the White House and for Air Force One. At this time however, we have decided not to frame such rules in the hope that professional journalistic norms will suffice to regulate conduct in those places. If unprofessional behavior occurs in those settings, or if a court should decide that explicit rules are required to regulate conduct there, we will be forced to reconsider this decision.
The White House’s interaction with the press is, and generally should be, subject to a natural give-and-take. President Trump believes strongly in the First Amendment, and a free press is the most accessible President in modern history. It would be a great loss for all if, instead of relying on the professionalism of White House journalists, we were compelled to devise a lengthy and detailed code of conduct for White House events.
Despite the fact that these rules are fairly straightforward and allows for colleagues to circle back to questions that might not have been answered yet, it’s almost certain that plenty of journalists will be none too pleased, insisting Acosta be allowed to continue his antics in the name of keeping the First Amendment and America free and safe from oppression.