The White House has issued new rules for journalists covering official press conferences following the reinstatement of CNN’s Jim Acosta’s hard press pass, but White House correspondents are refusing to follow them.
According to the rules, journalists are only allowed to ask one question before yielding the floor to another journalist, and follow-up questions will only be allowed at the discretion of the president or other official moderating the conference.
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Shortly after the rules were made public, the White House Correspondents’ Association, a group of reporters who cover the White House, issued a statement promising to continue to ask follow-up questions at press conferences, despite the new rules.
“The White House Correspondents’ Association had no role in crafting any procedures for future press conferences. For as long as there have been White House press conferences, White House reporters have asked follow-up questions,” WCHA president Olivier Knox said in a statement, The Hill reports.
“We fully expect this tradition will continue. We will continue to make the case that a free and independent news media plays a vital role in the health of our republic,” Knox added.
The document outlining the rules specifically states that;
- 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, 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
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Shortly after the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass, CNN launched a lawsuit, which was supported by several competitor media organizations including the New York Times, the Associate Press and even Fox News. A statement from several companies read that “reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions.”
“It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the president and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons,” the statement continued.
“Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this president, or any president. We will be filing friend-of-the-court briefs to support CNN’s and Jim Acosta’s lawsuit based on these principles.”
To justify the seizure, the White House accused Acosta of inappropriate behaviour, and released a video (which was later revealed to be doctored) that appeared to show Acosta being aggressive with a White House intern who attempted to take the microphone away from him.
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On Wednesday, Justice Department lawyer James Burnham argued that Acosta was guilty of “inappropriate grandstanding” and deserved to lose his access over “his refusal to comply with the general standards of a press conference.”
However, CNN’s lawyer, Theodore Boutrous, told the Associated Press that Acosta was being singled out for his body of work, not his alleged rudeness during a press conference.
“The White House has made very clear that they don’t like the content of the reporting by CNN and Jim Acosta,” Boutrous said. “Rudeness really is a code word for, ‘I don’t like you being an aggressive reporter.’”
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Christopher Dornan, a journalism professor at Carleton University, agreed with this sentiment. He added that journalists ask follow-up questions because “politicians try to evade or sidestep the intent of the original question.”
He stated that in limiting the ability of the press to ask follow-up questions, the White House is likely trying to “limit the capacity of the press to prosecute their positions.”
He also notes that a federal judge recently ordered the reinstatement of Acosta’s hard pass because the White House did not go through due process to confiscate it — or in other words, there are no existing rules regarding journalists’ decorum at press conferences that could have been broken to justify the seizure.
With the introduction of new rules however, he says he wouldn’t be surprised if other journalists soon have their passes revoked as well.
Dornan insists that while the White House states that the rules were issued in the name of decorum, “what he really wants is deference, and he’s not going to get it.”
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While Acosta’s may have been the first press pass to be revoked, Dornan suspects this won’t be the last case.
“One by one, White House correspondents are going to violate those rules, and they may well have their passes revoked. So we’ll see how this plays out,” he said.
“The Acosta case does not resolve this. That was the opening chapter.”
–With files from the Associated Press.