A little over a week before Trump’s inauguration, CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta had a featured role during a January presser that at the time was Trump’s first in 167 days. Coming the day after CNN had described the existence of a report claiming that Russia had compromising information on Trump, a report BuzzFeed then released, Trump called Acosta, and by proxy, CNN, “fake news” and refused to take a question from Acosta. As Acosta described in the aftermath, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer threatened Acosta with ejection next time.
It was a portentous opening to a ritual that, in the Trump era, would be anything but normal: overblown visual aids, the occasional blocking of selected outlets from an off-camera briefing and threats to put an end to daily briefings entirely.
And as the Trump administration piloted yet another iteration of more secretive, definitely not business-as-usual briefings, this time a no-recordings, no-cameras briefing yesterday, Acosta had quite the something to say about it in a debrief with Brooke Baldwin,” he said. “So the White House press secretary is getting to a point, Brooke, where he’s just kind of useless. You know, if he can’t come out and answer the questions and they’re just not going to do this on camera or audio, why are we even having these briefings or these gaggles in the first place?”
Good question. It’s one to which some would respond: don’t. Or, as NYU professor Jay Rosen advocates, “send the interns”:
During the Trump campaign who had better access: The reporters in the media pen, or those who got tickets and moved with the rest of the crowd? Were the news organizations on the blacklist really at a disadvantage? I can hear the reply. We need both: inside and outside. Fine, do both. My point is: outside-in can become the baseline method, and inside-out the occasionally useful variant. Switch it up. Send interns to the daily briefing when it becomes a newsless mess. Move the experienced people to the rim.
It was part of a set of suggestions, a how to be for the press in the Trump era, but for that bit of advice to have any prospect of success, it relied on Rosen’s next suggestion of being “less predictable, please”:
If Trump can break with established norms so can the journalists who cover him. When you’re not where he expects you to be, you’re winning. I’m not going to elaborate on this because that would defeat the point of listing it.
“I don’t know why everybody is going along with this,” Acosta would go on to say a little later in his conversation with Baldwin. And later still, in an interview with HuffPost’s Michael Calderone, it seemed Acosta, at least, was ready to be a living example of Rosen’s suggestions.
“We should walk out,” he told Calderone. “There must be collective action or else the stonewalling will continue.”
But if Acosta were to lead the charge, who would follow?
Today’s briefing, according to a tweet from Acosta this morning, will be on camera. Is it a victory for a return to standard procedure amid pushback? More likely, it’s a temporary reprieve to dissipate any momentum toward a collective response from a too-predictable press to the unpredictable White House.