Profiles in Absurdity: Jim Acosta as First Amendment ‘Hero’

By | 2018-11-17T18:02:06+00:00 November 18th, 2018|
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The latest theatrics involving Jim Acosta, the left-wing political activist posing as a CNN reporter, perfectly illustrate the reasons why ordinary Americans despise the Beltway swamp: anti-Trump propaganda masquerading as journalism, rude and arrogant “reporters” engaged in 24/7 “resistance,” a federal judiciary so thoroughly dominated by liberal opinion that even Republican-appointed judges parrot the views of their ideological captors, and vain lawyers so eager for praise by the Acela Corridor establishment that they are willing to betray principle and common sense to receive accolades from fashionable elites.

The underlying facts are by now well-known: The insufferable Acosta, surely the most obnoxious “correspondent” ever to hold a White House press pass—a dubious distinction in a competition that includes Sam Donaldson (ABC) and the late Helen Thomas (UPI), among others—had his credentials suspended after a particularly abrasive encounter with President Trump at a November 7 presser. In a widely publicized incident, Acosta harangued at length, refused to relinquish the microphone when directed to do so, and pushed away a young female intern who was trying to pass the mic to another reporter.

White House press passes have always been viewed as discretionary and subject to regulation, in order reasonably to limit the size of the press pool and ensure proper decorum. Reporters are expected to be courteous and to exhibit professional behavior.

The attention-seeking Acosta, as is his custom, was grandstanding at the press conference, and breached longstanding protocols by insisting on arguing disrespectfully with the president. For this, his “hard pass”—necessary to gain entrance to the White House—was temporarily suspended. CNN was not barred from the White House; only Acosta was.

Instead of feeling chastened by Acosta’s atrocious behavior, CNN promptly filed suit, seeking an injunction ordering the immediate reinstatement of Acosta’s White House access. CNN’s lawsuit solemnly—and risibly—warned that Acosta’s suspension “was an unabashed attempt to censor the press” and “would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist.” The nation’s Fourth Estate having become a Fifth Column for the Left, many media organizations—including Fox News!—joined CNN’s lawsuit. The First Amendment was at stake, CNN hysterically claimed.

An Absurd Ruling
Within days, the federal judge assigned to the case, a novice Trump appointee named Timothy J. Kelly, issued a temporary restraining order restoring Acosta’s press pass on the grounds that it was denied without a hearing, in violation of due process. According to Kelly, a reporter’s access to the White House and opportunity to be recognized at a presser—privileges not available to ordinary citizens—are “entitlements” belonging to the media elites that cannot be revoked unilaterally. Acosta effectively “owns” his press pass, and the White House is powerless to suspend it.

To those in fly-over country, this ruling seems absurd—because it is.

Of course, Kelly’s fatuous ruling was applauded by the victorious news media. (Only the One America News Network expressed support for the White House.) Portraying the histrionic Acosta as a civil rights hero or media martyr exalts the narcissistic media’s self-absorption to new levels. Acosta is plainly a pompous ass—an embarrassing buffoon whose bombastic antics diminish the public’s respect for objective journalism.

By joining in CNN’s lawsuit, in the guise of defending “freedom of the press,” other media organizations dignified Acosta as if he were Edward R. Murrow or Walter Lippmann. Absolving Acosta of consequences for his disruptive conduct should not be enshrined in the historic pantheon of First Amendment triumphs, along with publication of the Pentagon Papers. CNN’s courtroom “victory” will only embolden puerile stunts by Acosta and other members of the White House press corps.

Kelly, however, has earned some brownie points with Beltway media, making him a candidate for the quickest onset ever of the “Greenhouse Effect,” so named for the influential former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, whose favorable coverage was thought to influence conservative judges to shift their views in order to curry her left-leaning favor.

Ted Olson’s “Strange New Respect”
Finally, a word about CNN’s lawyers in this silly lawsuit, Ted Olson and Ted Boutros of the blue-chip firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. The Los Angeles-based Gibson Dunn was Ronald Reagan’s law firm, and home to William French Smith, President Reagan’s first Attorney General (and prior to that his personal counsel). Gibson Dunn’s Washington, D.C. office became a powerhouse during the 1980s, with Olson and Ken Starr using it as a platform in between high-profile stints with Republican administrations.

Olson has been a conservative stalwart—a rarity among D.C. “super lawyers.” He represented George W. Bush in the Florida recount in the 2000 election and successfully argued Bush v. Gore in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 1990s, Olson courageously led a team of lawyers in a successful challenge of the University of Texas’ use of racial preferences in admissions in the Hopwood v. UT case. Olson served as solicitor general under President Bush.

By any measure, the 78-year old Olson has had a stellar career. In the past decade, however, Olson has begun to respond to the siren song of what Tom Bethell used to call the desire for “strange new respect.” Conservatives are reviled by the Left, and conservatives in positions of power are especially reviled—because they can actually effect change. Some conservatives, having achieved the pinnacle of their career in public life, want a greater reward than simply material success. They crave the esteem of the establishment. To acquire the Left’s approval, these conservative figures have to tack to the center, or even cross the aisle altogether.

In Olson’s case we saw the first signs of this when he joined his nemesis from Bush v. Gore, David Boies, to challenge California’s Proposition 8, which declared that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Olson publicly stated that California’s ban on same-sex marriage was equivalent to race discrimination, and compared his opposition to Proposition 8 to Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down a law banning interracial marriage. Liberals loved the “new” Ted Olson.  The Left will love him even more now that he has opposed the Trump Administration on behalf of the least sympathetic “reporter” in America, Jim Acosta.

Serving as the mouthpiece for CNN’s overwrought rhetoric in the case will not burnish Olson’s legacy, but further tarnish it—a tragic price to pay for the D.C. establishment’s “strange new respect.”

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

About the Author:

Mark Pulliam
Mark Pulliam is a lawyer and commentator who fled California and now lives in Austin, Texas. He is a contributing editor at the Library of Law and Liberty and proprietor of the Misrule of Law blog.