White House Reporter Rips Acosta for Acting Like 'Opposition Party'

Jim Acosta
April 1, 2020

The president of the White House Correspondents' Association criticizes CNN's Jim Acosta in a new book, writing that the combative reporter's "soapbox" approach to journalism has bolstered President Donald Trump.

Acosta has at times acted like an "opinion journalist" who has played "right into the explicit Trump strategy of portraying the press as the opposition party," ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl writes in Front Row at the Trump Show, his account of reporting on the president since the early 1990s. Karl told the Washington Free Beacon that many media figures have mistaken editorializing for journalism since Trump took office.

"A sub-sub theme [of the book] is those of us reporters make a mistake if they appear to be too much like an opposition to the president or the resistance," Karl, who is also president of the White House Correspondents' Association, told the Free Beacon. "That's not our job. We're not the opposition party. We're supposed to report and report aggressively on the president, on any president, but not to go over the top."

Karl singles out Acosta for his dramatic sparring match with then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in 2018. The CNN correspondent insisted Sanders tell the assembled press they weren't the "enemy of the people." Acosta took to the airwaves to propose reporters should make bumper stickers or gather outside the White House and chant, "We are not the enemy of the people."

Karl said it was a moment that could have been scripted by Trump, adding he's also been tempted to "get on my soapbox" like Acosta did.

"The surest way to undermine the credibility of the White House press corps is to behave like the political opposition," Karl writes. "Don't give speeches from the White House briefing room.... Don't talk about holding protests against the president in Lafayette Square."

Karl is the latest veteran reporter to take issue with Acosta's behavior. The Atlantic's Todd Purdum wrote that Acosta's back-and-forth with Sanders played "directly into Trump's received narrative about a hostile, combative, and even unfair press."

Karl also criticizes Acosta for a 2017 incident in which then-president-elect Trump called Acosta "fake news." Trump was angry over CNN's report on unsubstantiated allegations that Russian operatives had compromising information about him. He refused to call on Acosta, who interrupted NPR's Mara Liasson and repeatedly tried to ask his question.

"Acosta was portraying himself as some kind of righteous advocate for the press," Karl wrote, but to most reporters he was "just rudely interrupting a colleague."

Karl told the Free Beacon he has no personal grudge against Acosta.

"It's a pretty collegial atmosphere in the briefing room," he said.

The CNN anchor has clashed repeatedly with Trump. He insisted Trump was wrong to call the Central American migrant caravan an "invasion" at a Nov. 7, 2018, press conference. When a Trump aide tried to take the microphone from him, Acosta refused to relinquish it and his press pass was temporarily revoked. It was restored after a brief legal battle.

That skirmish led the usually measured Fox News host Chris Wallace to call Acosta a "showboat" who "embarrassed himself." CBS White House correspondent Major Garrett said at the time that he would give up the microphone when asked. Poynter's Al Tompkins wrote that Acosta became the news story rather than doing his job. Wallace also said in February he was "horrified" by Acosta's conduct at press conferences.

In 2017, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a fierce Trump critic, said Acosta sounded like he was comparing the Trump administration to Nazi Germany during an exchange with administration official Stephen Miller over immigration policy.

"But when Jim Acosta used the language, ‘It seems like your policies are trying to engineer racial and ethnic percentages' or something, it sure sounded like something that you would read out of Mein Kampf or something," Scarborough said.

Acosta has received some praise for his performance in the Trump era, including from former ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson, who told the Daily Beast in 2018 Acosta was "as good as it gets."

Acosta is sharply critical of Trump's rhetoric against the media and hasn't been shy to express personal criticism of Trump's policies, such as when he claimed Americans would find Trump's Oval Office coronavirus March address xenophobic or said celebrity Kim Kardashian West shouldn't be in the White House in 2018 to discuss criminal justice reform.

Acosta, who declined comment, defended his reporting style and ripped Trump's temperament and rhetoric in his 2019 book, The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America.