The White House has abandoned efforts to remove CNN’s Jim Acosta for the time being, instead opting to institute new rules for how reporters will conduct themselves during future press conferences.
The new rules require journalists to ask only a single question when called on, only ask follow-up questions at the discretion of the official they’re questioning, and “physically surrendering” the microphone after asking their question.
Per White House letter to Acosta on Nov. 19, here are the new rules for press conferences at the White House. pic.twitter.com/a6C2pmLv2K
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) November 19, 2018
All three of those rules aren’t exactly unheard of — rather, they’re more or less things most reporters would do without being asked. But it’s a fourth rule that could have a chilling effect on the press:
“Failure to abide by any of rules (1)-(3) may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist’s hard pass,” the White House wrote.
By outlining a strict and harsh punishment for violation of their new rules for decorum, the White House will make it harder for journalists to keep them honest.
Would a White House official, backed into a corner by a strong line of questioning, ever concede a follow-up to their questioner if they knew they could simply move on?
If the reporter shouted out the follow-up question anyway, would the White House hesitate to punish them by suspending or revoking their pass?
A number of revealing interactions between the Trump administration and the press have come at the hand of diligent reporters offering strong and unprompted follow-up questions when met with an unsatisfactory answer.
A January 2018 exchange between NBC News’ Peter Alexander and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders demonstrated the values of these questions perfectly.
Sanders responded to Alexander’s question on school shootings with a prepared statement on the larger issue of crime in general, and no real meaningful policy answer for how the administration intended to address school shootings.
As Sanders attempted to end the press conference and walk away from the podium, Alexander offered a follow-up question that extended the press conference for a few more minutes.
“Look, I just read off a lot of the things that he’s doing,” Sanders responded.
Watch the video below, via CNN:
“But you said we should have a policy conversation, so the question is what is the policy the president is willing to pursue or actively direct others to pursue to help make sure that these students are safe?” Alexander asked.
The exchange quickly turned heated and revealed that the White House didn’t really have an answer to the question of school shootings in America.
But if that exchange where to happen today, Alexander could be running afoul of the White House’s new rules. And if he made them angry enough, they could retaliate through the process outlined in those rules.
The rules would have an even greater impact on the few and far between opportunities journalists have to grill the president behind a podium. President Donald Trump’s freewheeling and unguarded approach to press conferences has repeatedly made headlines — often due to the outrageous lies he attempts to throw at the press.
But the White House has made it clear through their new rules: if the president lies to your face, you’ll need his permission to fact-check him.