CNN Sues White House

CNN has filed suit against President Donald Trump and several aides to try and get senior White House reporter Jim Acosta's press pass restored. It was revoked after Acosta pressed the President in a press conference and briefly refused to give up his mic when approved by a White House intern.

The suit was filed in a U.S. District Court in Washington Tuesday (Nov. 13). Both CNN and Acosta are cited as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

CNN argues that the D.C. Circuit court has already made it clear that "access [to White House press facilities] not be denied arbitrarily or for less than compelling reasons." CNN says the White House had no such reason and that it was bringing suit to "enforce [the] constitutional commitment [to a free and unfettered press], restore Acosta’s well-deserved press credentials, and ensure that the press remains free to question the government and to report the business of the nation to the American people."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who is named as a defendant in the suit, called it "more grandstanding from CNN," and said it would vigorously defend itself. She said in a statement that CNN still has almost 50 White House hard pass holders and said Acosta had "inappropriately refused to yield [the mic] to other reporters."

The suit came after CNN sent a letter to the White House Friday (Nov. 9) seeking immediate reinstatement of the pass and warning a lawsuit could be forthcoming.

CNN is seeking "a preliminary injunction as soon as possible so that Acosta can return to the White House right away, and a ruling from the court preventing the White House from revoking Acosta's pass in the future," according to the network.

"While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," the network said in reporting on the suit. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."

The White House has countered that it was just maintaining order when it revoked the pass, and that the move was not arbitrary or capricious.

Among CNN's submissions to the court was a brief from former ABC senior White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, who signaled over the weekend that a suit was likely coming. Donaldson was breaking White House news again since CNN was declining to confirm a suit was coming when asked about Donaldson's comments.. "I was shocked and dismayed by the White House's decision to revoke Acosta's press credentials," he told the court. "I am not aware of any prior situation in which a White House correspondent's hard pass was revoked."

In announcing it is filing an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the suit, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection said that the government should not be allowed to decide which reporters from a news organization can ask questions.

"To dislike Acosta’s and CNN’s reporting is President Trump’s prerogative; but to retaliate against them by revoking Acosta’s White House security credentials (sometimes called a “hard pass”) tramples on the Constitution," said the groups. "Such retaliatory action not only harms CNN and Acosta but also aims to chill the constitutionally protected speech and newsgathering activity of other journalists whom the public depends upon to question government officials vigorously and to report candidly on the responses."

The Radio Television Digital News Association and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force voiced its support for the suit.

CNN had pointed out to the court that the issue was broader than just CNN and that the President had suggested other passes could be pulled.

“The Trump administration’s attempt to punish CNN and Jim Acosta was, and is, outrageous and unacceptable," said RTDNA executive director Dan Shelley. "It was an unwarranted escalation of anti-First Amendment and press freedom rancor consistently used by this president and his acolytes."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.