The only thing weirder than the fact that CNN correspondent Jim Acosta had a testy exchange with White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller over a poem, is the fact that CNN was seemingly proud of its role in the argument, at one point linking to the video on its home page. The debate, which lasted over 6 minutes, began with Acosta quoting the poem on the Statue of Liberty. He went on to claim that Trump’s plan to prioritize immigrants with relevant job skills is at odds with the composition, which is sort of like saying the Pentagon can’t purchase tanks because they aren’t in keeping with the lyrics to Yankee Doodle Dandy.
When Miller pointed out that the poem was not even added to the Statue of Liberty until 1903, Acosta claimed it was “national park revisionism” which is ironic because he was the one citing a national park tourist attractions as if it had supremacy over the U.S. Constitution. Miller did such a good job during the debate that even left leaning Politico declared it a TKO against CNN, though subsequent columnists, desperate to call someone a bigot, decided that the word “cosmopolitan” is now an epithet (dear god, won’t anyone think of the poor cosmopolitans!).
But aside from the fact that their reporter attempted to ask why the president’s powers over immigration were not constrained by a poem that doesn’t even rhyme (perhaps a limerick would be given more legal deference), the greater embarrassment to CNN should be just how much they’ve abandoned actual reporting. In Acosta’s six minute diatribe, he continually interrupted Miller to the point where the person holding the briefing was unable to get a word out and brief anyone. And whenever Miller called him out on the inconsistencies in his position (for instance, Acosta’s citing Trump’s wall in a green card discussion), Acosta got more defensive and shouted out other non-relevant anecdotes.
The whole discourse makes you wonder if the media has completely lost sight of its role. When a reporter is at a press briefing, and he has the opportunity to question one of the key architects on immigration policy, shouldn’t he at least try to listen to the answer? Isn’t hearing the answer the point of asking? There is no doubt that a good reporter may need to aggressively re-ask certain questions to make sure the interviewee actually addresses the inquiry, but that does not mean that a reporter should interrupt the initial answer multiple times to talk about his Dad.
But CNN is somehow proud of this interaction because they see themselves and all of their reporters not as truth seekers, but as the #resistance. However, if they really do want to destroy Trump, their best bet is to do actually good reporting. When they continually insert themselves as commentators, it devalues every other story that they report. How can you escape being called fake news when one of your lead stories is your own senior reporter screaming over a White House official to talk about how his daddy relates to a placard at a national park?
This is what happens when cable news continually blurs the line between reporter and commentator. Now, even in the midst of a press briefing, reporters are going on scripted tirades in the hopes of going viral. While there is certainly room for good reporters to editorialize, Walter Cronkite did not criticize the Vietnam War by interrupting war footage with his own commentary on how his mother really disliked the smell of napalm in the morning. He did honest reporting first, and then presented America with his commentary.
Current reporters would do well to do the same. At the very least, they could sit back and listen after they ask a question.