Jim Acosta has regularly sparred with Donald Trump
The news conference was beaming live across the nation. The country's leader was hunched over a podium before reporters. CNN's Jim Acosta gripped a microphone and fired off a tough question.
"Why do you have Cuban political prisoners?" Acosta asked. "And why don't you release them?"
It was March 2016 in Havana. Then-President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro were holding a joint news conference to mark the American president's historic visit to the island nation. Castro, the longtime, strongman head of an oppressive regime infamous for squashing dissent and muzzling the press, was clearly uncomfortable fielding questions from a journalist. As the New York Times reported at the time, it was a first time a foreign reporter had addressed Cuban leadership since the 1950s.
But handlers did not swoop in to grab Acosta's microphone. The reporter – whose own father was a Cuban exile – was not hauled out of the room. His credentials were not tossed. Instead, the Cuban leader grumbled out a non-answer. "Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately," Castro said.
Fast-forward two years, and Acosta had a very different experience Wednesday tangling with presidential power on-air.
Jim Acosta announced the White House had suspended his press credentials. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Acosta had lost his hard pass after "placing his hands on a young woman" who was trying to take away the reporter's microphone during his testy back-and-forth with Trump.
Following the mixed-results of this week's midterm elections, President Donald Trump held a news conference that quickly descended into a full-contact grudge match against Democrats, failed Republicans candidates and the press.
"CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them," Trump thundered to Acosta after the reporter asked a question about the president's inflammatory rhetoric on immigration. "You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN."
Hours later, Acosta announced the White House had suspended his press credentials. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Acosta had lost his hard pass after "placing his hands on a young woman" who was trying to take away the reporter's microphone during his testy back-and-forth with Trump.
"This is a lie," Acosta stated on Twitter, later explaining to CNN's Anderson Cooper that the White House was "trying to shut us down. I think they're trying to send a message to my colleagues."
This is a lie. https://t.co/FastFfWych
– Jim Acosta (@Acosta) November 8, 2018
Acosta's yanked credentials have created a firestorm in media circles – and pulled much of the press focus off the midterm results and the abrupt dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It's also the latest cycle in the reporter's complicated relationship with administration. Depending on your political stripes, the move was either a dangerous attack on the First Amendment, or a showboating reporter's comeuppance.
Since 2016, Acosta has become one of the press corps' most high-profile members, regularly sparring with administration officials, such as Sanders and White House adviser Stephen Miller. For Trump – who repeatedly vents his anger at the press and CNN in particular – Acosta is a convenient foil. But the reporter's bulldog reporting style has made him a household name.
"I probably receive more death threats than I can count," Acosta told Variety this year. "I get them basically once a week."
If there's a precursor to Acosta's style in the White House media landscape, it was Sam Donaldson. During the latter part of the Reagan administration, the president would go months between taking questions from the press. The ABC White House correspondent began lobbing questions at President Ronald Reagan during public appearances.
Don't believe the lies coming from the WH. Believe in our freedoms. Thank you all for your support. We won't back down.
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