CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joined em this morning to discuss his coverage of President Trump:
HH: President Trump has tweeted for the second time this morning. “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office begging for campaign contributions not so long ago, and would do anything for them, is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill and Crooked-Used! Quite the provocative tweet. Joining me now, Jim Acosta. He is CNN’s White House senior White House correspondent, past guest on this program. Jim, welcome, good to talk to you.
JA: Good to talk to you.
HH: What do you make of that tweet?
JA: (laughing) I’m old enough to remember when people would say we shouldn’t cover the tweets. You know, they are news. And as the press secretary has said time and again, they are official statements from the White House.
HH: That one is going to stir up a lot of dust today. Perhaps, do you think, to turn attention away from an Alabama result that the President is not going to like?
JA: I don’t know. I guess so. You know, I’ve gotten out of the prediction business when it comes to Donald Trump. But you know, I think that we have seen that time and again. These tweets are used as sort of a bright, shiny object. You know, I’ve tweeted that you know, there’s a bright, shiny object going up, and it’s not just a Christmas tree at Mar-A-Lago or at the White House. You know, he occasionally throws these out there in the morning just sort of turn us away, whether it’s the Russia investigation or perhaps the Alabama Senate race. I think tonight is just going to be absolutely fascinating to watch. I mean, this really puts a lot of the President’s political reputation, at least for the time being, on the line. He’s mired in the 30s in most major national polls. And if he can’t pull Roy Moore over the finish line, I think it’s going to indicate a lot of weakness heading into 2018.
HH: I believe, by the way, Doug Jones is going to lose. We’ll see if I’m right later tomorrow. But let’s get to why I originally invited you on, Jim. You’ve been on before when you took your dad back to Cuba. It was terrific reporting.
HH: However, I often criticize people that I also like, and I like you, but I had to criticize you on November the 24th.
HH: The background is this. In 2002, George W. Bush was on a golf course, and approached about suicide bombers in Jerusalem, and he said this.
GWB: We must stop the terror. I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive.
HH: He got a lot of heat for that…
HH: And on November the 24th, President Trump, while golfing, said we’ll be calling the president of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terror. God bless the people of Egypt. Jim Acosta then retweeted and added, now watch this drive. Jim, do you regret that?
JA: True. Oh, goodness, no. I mean, come on. I mean, if you put my tweets up against the President’s, you know, they might be confused with tweets issued by your local church. I mean, the president of the United States has been playing golf at a rate that is going to surpass probably all of his predecessors by the time he’s finished being in office. Now is that a big deal isolated in and of itself? No, it’s not. But out on the campaign trail, he repeatedly attacked Barack Obama for playing golf. And I think that makes his, you know, trips out to a Trump golf course, which is happening almost every week, a real issue. And you know, not just from a standpoint of well, is he taking too much time to enjoy himself out on the golf course? Listen, I’m one of the biggest defenders of a president being able to play golf. This is the most stressful job in the world. You ought to be able to unwind. And in Washington, you know, it’s a great break to get away from the White House, to go out and play on a golf course whether it’s over at Andrews Air Force Base or, I guess now, Trump golf course over in Virginia. That’s not my issue. My issue is that he repeatedly, time and again, went after Barack Obama for playing golf, and now he is far outpacing Barack Obama when it comes to time out on the golf course. It’s sort of like what happened yesterday at the daily briefing where Sarah Huckabee Sanders is going off on reporters who she is accusing of intentionally misleading the American people when this president, as you know, time and again, Hugh, has repeatedly misled the American people. Journalists make honest mistakes. They don’t go out and intentionally mislead people. That’s not what we do. And yet, here you have the White House Press Secretary from the podium accusing us of doing just that. And so you know, Hugh, my job as a reporter, my job as a senior White House correspondent for CNN, is to report the news, but also to highlight and put a microscope on episodes of presidential hypocrisy. And you know, if Donald Trump was going to come after us out on the campaign trail, and as president of the United States through his tweets, I think we are well within our rights to defend ourselves, and also provide that kind of critical coverage to the American people.
HH: Now this is going to take a little extra time, and I want to alert Adam to that, because I want to be very specific. When you tweeted now watch this drive…
HH: That’s different from reporting straight news of the president is golfing as he issues this statement. He is golfing at a rate that exceeds that of President Obama, factual statements about which people can make their own inferences.
HH: My problem is when you put now watch this drive, it is snarky. Do you agree with me it was snarky?
JA: Sure, it was snarky. I think you know, this is a different kind of president, Hugh. We’re going to have a different kind of playbook when it comes to covering the president. That means at times, you know, I bring a little attitude to what I do on a daily basis. I will remind you, Hugh, when Barack Obama was president, I was a reporter at the G-20 Summit in Turkey who asked Barack Obama why can’t we get the bastards in reference to ISIS. The Obama White House thought that was way over the top, and thought it was a little snarky. You know, sometimes, Hugh, you have to, you have to step out of that Joe Friday Dragnet mode to try to throw them off their talking points. And that is part of what I try to do on a daily basis. I try to throw them off their talking points. That way, we occasionally get at the truth.
HH: Now Jim, that, but this was a tweet.
JA: I count off, Hugh, if you look at subsequent…
HH: It wasn’t a question.
JA: If you look at subsequent tweets, there were other tweets that day which you’re not isolating for your listeners. I’m not being critical of you. I’m just noting this omission on your part. There were subsequent tweets that talked about the number of times he was playing golf versus Barack Obama and the number of times he’s been playing golf since he’s been president of the United States. That is part of our job as well. But yes, you know, was I trying to catch people’s attention with a tweet that had a little bit of tabasco on it? Yes.
HH: Okay, so I’ve got what I call an admission against interest, a snarky tweet. So let me ask you this. Did you vote for President Trump?
JA: I didn’t vote in the last election.
HH: Did you vote for President Obama?
JA: I did not vote in that election, either.
HH: Did you vote in any…
JA: When I cover a major presidential, when I vote for a major presidential, or when I cover a major presidential candidate out on the campaign trail, I make it a policy not to vote on the presidential ballot in that election.
JA: I vote in other races, but I, you know, Edward R. Murrow did the same thing. Other journalists have done it over the years. It’s because I don’t want to make that kind of choice and be focused on that kind of choice when I’m covering a presidential candidate. I want to be hyper-focused on covering the facts of that day on any given day out on the campaign trail. And I just made, I made that a practice point.
HH: Why would voting, this actually ties together completely with the tweet. Why would voting in any way deter you from your mission of covering accurately what has been done and said?
JA: Why would voting? I think as I just said, I don’t want to be focused on making that kind of choice going into the ballot box when I’m covering a presidential candidate. I want to be as neutral and as fair and as objective as I possibly can be at all times.
HH: Bingo. Bingo.
JA: Yeah, that’s…yeah.
HH: Neutral, fair, objective. Neutral, fair, objective. Is it possible for your audience to believe you are neutral, fair and objective when you are snarkily tweeting at the President?
JA: Hugh, honestly, I think that yes, I think the viewer and the listener and the reader of my tweets can make that determination. I don’t think one tweet is something that you can indict a reporter on. If that were the case…
HH: Oh, yes…
JA: There are a lot of reporters who would be in that situation.
HH: Are you, Jim Acosta, neutral, fair and objective regarding Donald Trump?
JA: I think I am. I think I am very tough. But as I said earlier, Hugh, a different kind of president, a different kind of playbook. And let me ask you this, if I may. I’m just trying to figure out, Hugh, where is the same outrage? Where is the same sense of decency when it comes to when the President refers to us as the enemy of the people, when the President refers to us as fake news?
HH: It’s an interview, not a debate, but if you go back, I have condemned repeatedly the President referring to the media as enemies of the people. That’s a term loaded with…
JA: Where is the, where is the loaded, where is the sense of outrage when he goes out to a rally and whips up a crowd into a frenzy…
HH: Again, Jim, you’re talking to the wrong guy. Even though it’s an interview and not a debate, I’ve done that repeatedly, because I don’t approve of it.
HH: I am a transparently conservative commentator…
HH: And I therefore have license to roam over the field with my opinions.
HH: And they can be negative about Senator or Judge Moore, and they can be positive about Tom Cotton.
HH: But if you hold yourself out as neutral, fair and objective, I don’t think, and this is, by the way, why the New York Times now has social media guidelines for their reporters. And I think CNN’s got to develop them. If you’re going to hold yourself out as neutral, fair and objective, I don’t think you can snark.
HH: That was Belichick-like.
JA: Hugh, I have just as much, I have just as much a voice as anybody else. I think if you look at my coverage on a daily basis, if you look at the coverage at CNN on a daily basis, it is very fair, but it is also, it is very tough. And it is because, in part, we have a president that we’re covering these days who is very tough on us. I think, Hugh, I think…
HH: And so this is in response. You don’t like him, because he’s mean to you?
JA: Oh, goodness, I mean, listen, if you want to be liked in this business, go be a veterinarian. I don’t much care whether the President likes, dislikes or whatever. That’s not at issue here. But when the President out on the…
HH: Well, do you like him? Jim, do you like him?
JA: Do I like him?
JA: I don’t know him well enough to like him, Hugh.
HH: Do you admire him?
JA: I think what he has, I think, Hugh, what he has said about people of different faiths, people of different races, immigrants coming into this country, about journalists, cause me great concern. I am concerned about what’s happening to America. And I think America is changing. I think we are becoming a country that is not as welcoming to immigrants anymore. You have a president just last week who was retweeting anti-Muslim videos. That causes great harm to the Muslim-American community in this country who are law-abiding, faithful, yet patriotic people in this country. And it’s sad that they are denigrated in that fashion.
HH: So Jim, can you honestly…
JA: You have, wait, no, no, no, Hugh.
HH: this is just a fair question…
JA: Hugh, you asked me, Hugh, you asked me a question, and please let me finish. If you’re going to go after me on snarky tweets, let me finish your question. You have communities, immigrant communities who are living in fear that they’re going to be rounded up based solely on the color of their skin. I’m talking at the Latino community in this country, because the Latino community in this country has been demonized. You have reporters who are basically working a climate of fear right now, because out on the campaign trail, at rallies, while he was a candidate and while he’s president of the United States, he has repeatedly savaged the news media, repeatedly referred to the press as fake news, called them the enemy of the people. I remember out on the campaign trail, he called us disgusting, dishonest, liars, scum, demons.
HH: I report all that. I’ve only got a minute left, Jim, so I’ve got to ask you finally…
JA: Hugh, that has, Hugh, but no, Hugh, Hugh, that has real world consequences.
HH: I get that, but…
HH: The question is can you be fair, objective…
JA: If you’re going to take me, but no, if you’re going to take me to the woodshed over one tweet, Hugh, I don’t think it’s fair to ask me an open-ended question do I admire the President without giving you a fulsome response.
HH: But I, but you just had two minutes. I know. It is fulsome.
JA: And I think that…
HH: But I’m running up against a hard break. Are you…
JA: Well, you know, don’t invite me on if you don’t want me to finish your question.
HH: No, it’s been, it’s a long segment, 17 minutes.
JA: You just want to indict me on one tweet, if you just want to indict me on for one tweet, then you should let me finish and answer the question.
HH: Come back tomorrow. Come back tomorrow.
JA: I’ll come on any day.
HH: Keep talking about it. But can you be fair, objective and neutral, one minute.
JA: Hugh, of course, I can, but I’m going to be tough. When the White House Press Secretary comes out yesterday and says that there are reporters intentionally misleading people in this country, Hugh, who in the world is she talking about? I asked her to cite an example. She cited Brian Ross from ABC News. I don’t think Brian Ross was intentionally misleading the country when he reported that story. He made a mistake. But it is the president of the United States who has repeatedly, intentionally misled the American people, Hugh. He has repeatedly said that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, a comment that he finally withdrew towards the end of the campaign. And from my reporting and others’ reporting, he regrets doing that. He has repeatedly characterized Muslim people as essentially all sympathizers of ISIS. He has not done what George W. Bush did, and said that Islam is a religion of love and not of war, and not evil. He has repeatedly misstated the facts whether it’s that Mexicans voted for Hillary Clinton, and that’s why he lost the popular vote.
HH: All right, Jim, we’ve got to get out. You know what a hard break is. Come back tomorrow, continue the conversation. I’m not cutting you off. I’m just out of time. Thank you, Jim Acosta.
JA: Hey, Hugh, thanks for having me on. I wish it could have been a more fair interview.
HH: Come back tomorrow.
End of interview.