Editor’s Note: Jane Merrick is a British political journalist and former political editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
With the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, Donald Trump gained a glimpse of what it’s like to lose some – albeit only some – power.
And, when bullies think they’re losing control, they lash out in anger.
The President’s reaction to tough questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta about the Republican campaign and his immigration “invasion” rhetoric was classic bullying behavior: calling the chief White House correspondent a “rude, terrible person” shows how rattled Trump is about the results.
Just because the President’s outburst on Wednesday was in keeping with his portrayal of the media as “enemies of the people” does not mean it should be tolerated.
Trump’s decision to revoke Acosta’s pass to the White House grounds is an outrageous ramping up of his campaign against a questioning, robust. free media.
In response to a man who treats his Presidency as if it’s a series of a particularly bizarre reality-TV show, the entire White House press corps should walk out. Deny him coverage. Take him off the air. Cancel his series. Leave him to rage into Twitter’s echo chamber, which is all he deserves.
As Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, said on Twitter: “This is something I’ve never seen since I started covering the White House in 1996. Other presidents did not fear tough questioning.”
In Britain, too, Prime Ministers are asked tough, sometimes very hardline questions. I have covered UK politics during the terms of four Prime Ministers, and I have never seen a response like this.
Once, Tony Blair was asked if he had “blood on your hands” after the suicide of the Iraq weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly. This was a far more controversial question than anything Trump faced on Wednesday, yet the then-Prime Minister merely stood in stony silence. What’s more, the reporter who asked the question did not have his credentials revoked.
And now, not only has Acosta’s pass been withdrawn, but he now faces the false claim by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders that he “placed his hands” on the female intern who tried to remove the microphone as he tried to ask more questions.
This young woman should not be blamed for doing her job in what must be a tough environment. What is disgraceful is that Sanders should insinuate that Acosta has committed some sort of assault – when footage of the incident clearly shows the intern placing her hands on his arm, and not the other way around.
Sanders has even circulated what to my eyes appears to be a doctored film of the interaction with Acosta’s arm movement sped up, to make it look as though he has karate-chopped her forearm.
Senior White House officials disseminating lies and smears on social media – which are then lapped up by Trump supporters – in revenge against a journalist asking questions evokes George Orwell’s “1984”: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
This accusation of assault is outrageous on its own. It is an insult to real victims of harassment and assault. But from a White House whose President has in the past admitted “grabbing” women in a sexual manner, whose record on misogyny is so poor, and who only last month praised a Republican candidate for body-slamming a reporter, it is breathtakingly hypocritical.
This marks the lowest point in the Trump White House’s campaign against the press, and it should no longer be indulged.