CNN sued the White House on Tuesday morning, demanding that security credentials be reinstated to journalist Jim Acosta, who was barred from the White House following a testy exchange with President Donald Trump during a news conference last week.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on a White House aide who tried to physically remove a microphone from Acosta and tweeted out a video that purportedly showed him doing so. But CNN’s lawsuit argues the allegation is transparently bogus and based on the use of doctored video that appears to have originated with far-right conspiracy website Infowars.
The lawsuit also cites White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s incoherent comments on Fox News on Sunday during which she acknowledged the video was “sped up,” but argued there’s a difference between that and doctoring footage.
.@KellyannePolls denies doctored video shared by White House was doctored— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 11, 2018
"What do you mean by 'doctored'?...Do you mean sped up? That's not altered. They do it all the time in sports to see if it's a touchdown. So I have to disagree w/ the overwrought description." #gaslighting pic.twitter.com/Eraq0Dp5AJ
Trump made a similarly unconvincing defense of the bizarrely dishonest tactics the White House employed in an attempt to justify Acosta’s banishment.
“The content and viewpoint of CNN’s and Acosta’s reporting on the Trump administration—not his interaction with the staffer at the November 7 press conference—were the real reason the White House indefinitely revoked his press credentials,” the lawsuit says. “Neither the White House nor the Secret Service has provided Acosta any formal notice of the reasons for, opportunity to be heard regarding, or opportunity to challenge, the decision to revoke his hard pass.”
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, CNN said that “[w]hile the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone. If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”
CNN alleges that the White House is violating the network’s First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights by banning him from the White House over objections to his reporting, and demands “[i]mmediate restoration of Acosta’s press credentials and hard pass so that Plaintiffs may continue to report from White House briefings and perform their jobs on White House grounds and at other presidential events.”
As the Atlantic detailed, there’s a legal precedent that suggests CNN’s lawsuit may be successful. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Nation correspondent Robert Sherrill was banned from the White House. The ACLU eventually sued, arguing Sherill’s banishment violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights, and ultimately prevailed.
“Once the government creates the kind of forum that it has created, like the White House briefing room, it can’t selectively include or exclude people on the basis of ideology or viewpoint,” Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told the Atlantic, summarizing the lessons of Sherill’s case.
In a statement released late Tuesday morning, Sanders dismissed the lawsuit as “just more grandstanding from CNN,” adding that the White House “will vigorously defend against the lawsuit.”
The statement went on to move the goalposts yet again by citing another new justification for Acosta’s banishment: that he purportedly hogs the spotlight from other reporters.
“The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor,” Sanders said. “If there is no check on this type of behavior it impedes the ability of the president, the White House staff and members of the media to conduct business.”