November 16, 2018

As he left the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta said, “Let’s go back to work.” A federal judge ordered that his “hard pass” press access be restored after the White House said he was disruptive during a press conference. Journalism organizations including rival networks joined in the case, calling it vital to press freedom. President Trump responded, “You can’t take three questions and four questions and just stand up and not sit down. Decorum, you have to practice decorum.”

Federal District Judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House “hard pass” Friday morning.

In a ruling, the judge zeroed in on the Fifth Amendment “due process” protections that were raised in a 1977 legal battle in which a reporter was denied White House press access. The U.S. Court of appeals, in that case, said there should be a process in which the government explains why it is denying access.

Upon exiting the courthouse Friday morning following the ruling, Acosta said, “I want to thank all of my colleagues in the press who supported us this week.”

He thanked the judge for the ruling then added, “Let’s go back to work.”

CNN issued a statement:

“We are gratified with this result and we look forward to a full resolution in the coming days. Our sincere thanks to all who have supported not just CNN, but a free, strong and independent American press.”

Ted Boutrous, an attorney who represented CNN in the case, said, “This is a great day for the First Amendment and journalism.”

The ruling today does not mean the battle between CNN/Acosta and the White House is over. While Acosta should get his hard pass back for a time, the White House may go back to court to fight the ruling. The judge said that he believes that CNN and Acosta are likely to prevail in the case overall, which could tamp down any appetite the president has to keep up the fight.

After the ruling, President Trump told reporters Friday:

“People have to behave, and they have to do- we’re writing up rules and regulations to make our position. I think you were treated very unfairly, both of you. I think you were treated very unfairly because you have somebody interrupting you. If they don’t listen to the rules and regulations, we’ll end up back in court and we’ll win. But more importantly, we’ll just leave. And then you won’t be very happy, because we’ll get good ratings.”

The President went on to explain what the rules and regulations might address.

“You can’t take three questions and four questions and just stand up and not sit down. Decorum, you have to practice decorum. You were there, you understand and you understand we want total freedom of the press. It is very important to me. It is more important to me than anybody would believe. You have to act with respect. You’re in the White House and when I see the way some of my people get treated at press conferences, it’s terrible. So we’re setting up a certain standard which is what the court is requesting and always be fair to the press, always First Amendment, but that’s the way it is. And we always have the option of just leaving, you know, if we feel that things aren’t being treated properly and people aren’t being treated properly, we always have the right to leave and I think the other media-the other press in the room, will not be very happy if that happens. But I’ve instructed my people when they are not treated properly-you just have the right to leave.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders wrote:

“Today the court made clear there is no First Amendment right to access the White House. IN response to the court, we will temporarily reinstate the reporter’s hard pass. We will also further develop rules and process to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future. There must be decorum at the White House.”

Despite what Sanders said, the judge did not rule on whether there was a broader violation of the First Amendment, as CNN and Acosta and dozens of media organizations claimed. Journalists have argued that if the White House had the power to take away press access because it did not like a journalists’ reporting, then any journalist could be in peril of being shut out — and Trump said he might do just that in the future.

Kelly said the White House’s accusations that Acosta placed his hands on an intern who was attempting to retrieve the microphone from Acosta was of “questionable accuracy.” That accusation was one of the key reasons press secretary Sarah Sanders gave for taking Acosta’s hard pass away even while she passed along an edited video that exaggerated the moment Acosta resisted handing over the mic.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists loudly supported Acosta and CNN in this fight. NABJ said the court ruling does nothing to erase concerns about the way the President treats reporters. NABJ posted a statement online:

According to NABJ Vice President of Broadcast Dorothy Tucker, journalists’ constitutional rights are taken seriously and NABJ’s esteemed journalists will not retreat from exercising those rights.

“President Trump’s verbal assaults on journalists, especially the recent attacks on three black female reporters, are unacceptable,” she said. “Journalists will continue to use an arsenal of investigative tools to do their job of finding and reporting the truth on important issues. The president’s actions will only further intensify the resolve of all journalists to find the truth and hold the powerful accountable.”

NABJ encourages all journalists to continue their diligence in the gathering and reporting of information to help provide context to issues and to uncover the truth.

“While the ruling is an initial victory; journalists must remain vigilant, with or without the credentials,” added (NABJ President Sarah) Glover. “We are professional journalists and we know that, while helpful, we don’t need White House credentials to cultivate credible sources inside and outside of the administration or any entity.”

From the law firm Ballard Spahr:

“We applaud Judge Kelly’s careful application of the law to reject the White House’s claim of unbridled authority over journalists’ access to the White House. Our democracy depends on reporters having access to, and being able to question, government officials.”

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