The Trump White House, with an assist from multiple Fox News hosts, has ratcheted up their attacks on CNN reporter Jim Acosta, claiming he became aggressive with a White House intern during Wednesday’s heated presidential press conference.
Late Wednesday evening, the White House announced it will restrict Acosta’s press access after the CNN reporter had a tense exchange with the president and refused to give up his microphone to a Trump staffer who attempted to take it from him.
The White House also justified their decision by accusing Acosta of “placing his hands” on the intern.
But the effort to paint Acosta as having manhandled a helpless young woman has become a Trumpworld talking point. One that Fox News has helped propagate.
“She was just doing her job, which was to reclaim the microphone that belongs to the federal government, and hand it to the next reporter” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News host Bill Hemmer on Thursday morning (while a chyron about the deadly Thousand Oaks shooting ran on-screen). “Obviously, I don’t think anybody should have—any young woman, particularly—should have swiping away at them, grabbing the microphone back. That’s very unfortunate. I have talked to that young woman, she is very brave and just doing her job.”
She continued: “I’ve been physically touched I have been yelled at, my kids have been threatened. Tucker Carlson, your colleague, he had a mob show up at his house last night, his wife was hiding in a pantry. Let’s talk about red-hot rhetoric. I will stand here all day long in my heels and talk about it, but I will not let it be made to be the president’s fault.”
Video of the highly watched exchange does show Acosta brushing away the young woman’s hand as she tried to grab the microphone from him. In fact, while trying to move away from the intern to continue questioning Trump, Acosta can be heard saying, “Pardon me, ma’am.”
And yet White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders further attempted to demonize Acosta by sharing a heavily doctored video—one shared earlier in the morning by an editor for far-right conspiracy theory outlet InfoWars—that slows down the intern’s approach and speeds up the CNN reporter’s hand movement to paint the exchange as violent.
“The question is: did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear, he did. We stand by our statement,” Sanders told reporters.
“Absolutely shameful,” Matt Dornic, a CNN spokesman, responded Thursday morning, retweeting a video that demonstrates how the original footage was edited.. “You released a doctored video - actual fake news. History will not be kind to you.”
But several Trump-boosting Fox News personalities have been quite kind to the White House’s efforts regarding Acosta.
On Wednesday evening, Fox Business Network host Trish Regan subtly suggested that Acosta engaged in anti-women violence, asking a guest—who was on to speak about Trump’s abrupt firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—to use her “background in sexual-assault cases” to assess the CNN reporter’s actions.
“What's your reaction to that video that we saw there, where Jim Acosta is sort of wrestling this young White House intern, to keep the microphone?” Regan asked attorney Misty Marris before any conversation about the “top story” of Sessions’ firing.
By Thursday morning, the rhetoric intensified on Fox Business, with host Stuart Varney—a self-described co-“founder” of CNN—calling Acosta a “disgrace” to CNN and the White House press corps with his “shameful” behavior.
“Acosta rudely confronted the president, he interrupted him, refused to stand down and refused to surrender the microphone. He struggled with a young White House intern. It was an awful display, shameful, frankly. This is not what a White House reporter should be doing,” Varney said on his show, Varney & Co.
The White House use of doctored video to suggest Acosta acted violently was condemned by one Fox News host, however.
Fox’s media critic Howard Kurtz admitted on-air Thursday that the White House “escalating to DEFCON 1 and yanking the credentials” was just shifting the spotlight to turn “Jim Acosta into a journalistic martyr.”
He then turned to the video spread by far-right outlets and the White House: “I think it’s a misstep on the part of the White House to claim that Jim Acosta was laying his hands on this young intern who tried to take the mic away, the contact was very incidental,” Kurtz said. “I also think it was a misstep for Sarah Sanders to tweet out a doctored video, put out by Infowars, the Alex Jones conspiracy site, that kind of made it look more aggressive than it was.”