Hold off on celebrating Acosta order
November 21, 2018
Happy Thanksgiving, Quay County and all of New Mexico.
To my media colleagues, however, I issue a warning.
The media corps seems to think they have reason to gloat over their turkey dinners as President Donald Trump eats crow over a restraining order that re-admits CNN reporter Jim Acosta to the White House after the president kicked him out for acting like a reporter.
Even Fox News protested Acosta’s removal.
The media universally are reporting federal District Court Judge Tim Kelly’s restraining order as an unqualified victory for the news media in their unending battle against a hostile president who isn’t even curious about the real meaning of the First Amendment.
My warning to my media colleagues is this: The feast could turn sour because there are far more unanswered question in this case than resolved issues, especially involving First Amendment press freedoms.
Kelly’s restraining order is based on the due process clause in the Fifth Amendment. Kelly apparently said Acosta should not have been kicked out of the White House without being told why or having an opportunity to defend himself.
According to the New York Times, Kelly said, “I have not determined that the First Amendment was violated here.”
I don’t know if this would come up in hearings in the Acosta-Trump case, but there has never been an absolute right to cover the White House from inside in the first place.
In fact, It’s probably as difficult to get White House press access as it is to join Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
If I wanted to be part of a White House press briefing for the Quay County Sun I would need a “hard pass.”
According to a USA Today video and Foreign Policy magazine, you have to be approved for hard passes to the White House by a Standing Committee of Correspondents, elected by accredited reporters, then undergo a security clearance.
So, that means only a gaggle of defenders of the First Amendment gets to choose who can get access to the cramped quarters of the White House briefing room.
Further, there is a pecking order even in the briefing room.
You can sit only if you are among the major network and national media reporters who get a reserved seat. The rest of the 50 or so reporters for whom there is room, must stand in the back.
So, while all reporters theoretically have equal rights to cover the White House, access to the White House is a closely guarded privilege.
To me, this clouds the relationship between White House press access, which seems to be pretty exclusive, and universal First Amendment rights.
There are other First Amendment issues to be addressed in this case, too.
I would advise my media colleagues to hold off on full celebrations.
The Fifth Amendment issue is only an appetizer.
The main course will be First Amendment issues that continue in Kelly’s courtroom in the coming weeks.
Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at: