Video Contradicts CNN and NY Times Claims About Acosta Incident

November 8, 2018 Updated: November 9, 2018

News Analysis

According to The New York Times and CNN, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied when she stated that CNN’s White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, physically mistreated a Trump administration intern who reached out to retrieve a microphone from him.

In an official statement, CNN said that “Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied.” The New York Times accused Sanders of “claiming falsely that Mr. Acosta had placed ‘his hands on a young woman.'” Acosta, in a direct response to Sanders, said “this is a lie.”

Sanders cited the incident with the intern as the reason to revoke Acosta’s White House credentials and shared a video of the act as proof.

The footage shows the intern walk toward Acosta after Trump indicated several times that he is moving to the next reporter. The aide reaches for the microphone twice with her right hand as Acosta shields it. On her third attempt, the intern gets a hold of the microphone with her left hand. At this point, Acosta pushes her arm down. The force of Acosta’s push is evident from the forward thrust of the intern’s figure, her momentary loss of balance, and the jolted look on her face as she turned to face Acosta.

While there may be some gray area on the amount of force Acosta used, there is no doubt that his behavior toward the intern was rude. Considering that there was no consensus on what transpired, even among other media, the accusations from the CNN and The New York Times are at least unsubstantiated.

Matt Dornic, the vice president of communications for CNN, went as far as to accuse the White House of doctoring the video.

“You manipulated this video. The lies never end,” Dornic wrote on Twitter.

Even though Sanders cited the specific incident with the intern in her statement, the New York Times and CNN reported that Acosta’s access was revoked because he asked Trump tough questions. That reporting requires context. Acosta has been addressing tough questions to both the president and his press secretary for nearly two years. He regularly disrupts press conferences and uses his questions to advocate for issues he feels strongly about. The White House has never threatened to revoke his access because of his style.

“President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern,” Sanders said in a statement.

“This conduct is absolutely unacceptable. It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question.”

There is only one known video which shows the incident. An eyewitness account from a Reuters reporter also challenges the White House claim.

“I was seated next to @Acosta at today’s press conference and did not witness him ‘placing his hands’ on the young intern, as the White House alleges,” Reuters reporter Jeff Mason wrote on Twitter.

Sanders responded to doubts about her claim in the afternoon on Nov. 8.

“The question is: did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear, he did. We stand by our statement,” Sanders said in a statement.

How a viewer may perceive the incident in the video may be subject to bias. One way to examine the situation is to consider how CNN and the New York Times would describe the incident if the reporter was from Fox News and the intern was from the Obama White House.

In a three-and-a-half minute segment interviewing Acosta on the night that his credentials were revoked, not once did CNN play the part of the video which shows Acosta’s treatment of the intern.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @IvanPentchoukov