The US president called Jim Acosta a ‘rude, terrible person’ after he refused to give up a microphone while trying to ask a question.
In an unprecedented move, the White House has suspended the credentials of a senior CNN journalist for his “disgusting and outrageous” behaviour, hours after he had a testy exchange with United States President Donald Trump during a marathon news conference.
The move came just hours after CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta drew the ire of Trump by persisting with questions about his views on a caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the US border and refused to the President’s orders to sit down and clung to the microphone.
The removal of Acosta’s pass is a sharp escalation of tensions between the Trump administration and the media.
At the news conference, which lasted 1 hour and 26 minutes, Trump snapped at the press corps, called reporters “rude” for asking questions, and made baseless claims about political polling.
Acosta was one of the first reporters Trump called on. “Thank you, Mr. President,” he said. “I want to challenge you on one of the statements that you made in the tail end of the campaign.”
Trump leaned into the microphone and said, “Here we go” -- seemingly relishing the confrontation.
“As you know, Mr President, the caravan is not an invasion,” Acosta said. “It’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the US.”
Trump, sarcastically, replied, “Thank you for telling me that, I appreciate it.”
Acosta: “Why did you characterise it as such?”
“Because I consider it an invasion. You and I have a difference of opinion.”
“But do you think that you demonised immigrants?”
“No, not at all. I want them to come into the country. But they have to come in legally,” Trump said.
“That’s what the migrants are trying to do -- they say they intend to seek asylum,” he said.
Acosta called out the misleading ad released by the Republican Party and said: “They’re hundreds of miles away, though. They’re hundreds and hundreds of miles away. That’s not an invasion.”
“You know what? I think you should,” Trump started to say, pointing at Acosta. “Honestly, I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” a visibly angry Trump said as Acosta tried to ask another question. Then a White House intern unsuccessfully tried to take the microphone from the CNN correspondent.
Trump backed away from the podium for a moment, signalling he was done, while Acosta asked the question again and then let go of the microphone.
Defending Acosta, the CNN said the Trump administration’s decision was “a threat to democracy”.
Describing Acosta’s behaviour as “disgusting and outrageous”, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, in a statement on Wednesday said, “As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”
Sanders said Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration. “We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.
“It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question,” she said.
Sanders claimed Trump has given the press more access than any US president in history.
“Contrary to CNN’s assertions, there is no greater demonstration of the President’s support for a free press than the event he held today.
“Only they would attack the President for not being supportive of a free press in the midst of him taking 68 questions from 35 different reporters over the course of an hour and a half – including several from the reporter in question,” she said.
Meanwhile, the CNN said the revocation of Acosta’s pass “was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today’s press conference...This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better”.
Acosta was stopped by the Secret Service from entering the White House about 7 pm.
Former president of the White House Correspondents Association, Jeff Mason, refuted the White House accusation that Acosta placed his hand on a female White House intern.
“I was seated next to Acosta at today’s press conference and did not witness him placing his hands on the young intern, as the White House alleges,” he tweeted.
Mason, a Reuters correspondent, said Acosta held on to the microphone as the intern reached for it and later posted a few pictures from the press conference to prove his point.
Peter Baker from The New York Times, who has been covering the White House for 22 years, said, “This is something I have never seen since I started covering the White House in 1996. Other presidents did not fear tough questioning.”
The White House Correspondents Association also said such a decision is “unacceptable” and urged the White House that it “immediately reverse its decision”.
“Journalists may use a range of approaches to carry out their jobs and the WHCA does not police the tone or frequency of the questions its members ask of powerful senior government officials, including the President,” WHCA president Olivier Knox said.
The White House, meanwhile, said it stands by its decision.
“We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behaviour clearly documented in this video,” Sanders said, posting a video of the CNN reporter allegedly placing his hand on a young woman.
Trump spars with CNN’s Acosta
US President Donald Trump’s post-election news conference at the White House saw him getting involved in an angry exchange with the CNN reporter.
To CNN’s Jim Acosta’s question on a migrant caravan from Central America moving towards the United States, many members of whom were termed “criminals” by Trump, the visibly upset president said, “I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN.”
When the CNN reporter refused to hand over the microphone to a White House staffer, as Trump had called another journalist to ask question, the president said, “That’s enough. Put down the mic.”
When the reporter asked whether Trump was worried about indictments coming down in this investigation, he said, “I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person, You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”
“I think, that’s unfair,” the CNN journalist said.
But Trump continued, “You’re a very rude person. The way you treat (White House Press Secretary) Sarah Huckabee Sanders is horrible and the way you treat other people are horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”
When an NBC News reporter came to his fellow journalist’s defense, the president said, “When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”