Full disclosure: I did not go to J school. I have never been trained in the finer arts of journalism. The best I have is working for the number one high school newspaper in the country back in the late '80's. But there were a few things I learned under our advisor, Harvey Weiner, that kind of stuck with me.
- Number one: When you ask a question it needs to end in a question mark. If you are reporting news, the answers matter. Your opinion does not.
- Number two: You are not the news story. If the story involves you someone else should write it.
- Number three: Your opinion belongs on the editorial page. Your feelings and observations belong in a human interest or feature story. Background, facts, data and statements (properly quoted) belong in a news story.
Even in high school we were ferociously edited to these standards. I have no idea if my advisor went to J school, but his standards made sense. News is supposed to answer the basic questions. Who, what, where, when and why. Everything else belongs somewhere else.
In full disclosure, I dunk on Jim Acosta as much as anyone else. In viewing the video of yesterday's press conference, there was no "assault" of Acosta or the intern. There was a dispute over possession of the microphone. To say someone needs to go to jail is preposterous. Dunking on the intern doing her job is just being a jerk.
So how could this all have been avoided? If Jim Acosta could go back to his basic journalism training and ask questions rather than bloviating and pontificating, it could certainly take the temperature down. Remember, these inquiries end in a question mark. Here is my suggestion for Acosta might have conducted himself, in reporting the news about the press conference, rather than becoming a spectacle in the same venue.
- Acosta is recognized by the President to ask a question.
- Acosta question 1: "President Trump, in the closing of the campaign you ran an ad featuring video of the caravan moving towards the U.S. Border that is several hundred miles away. Do you believe that ad the effect on voters that you anticipated?
- Acosta question 2: "What are your specific concerns about the caravan? What do you think the concerns of Americans is about the caravan?"
- Acosta question 3: "Do you think it is possible this ad had a negative impact on the suburban districts Democrats won last night?"
- Acosta question 4: "If you had to do it over would you pick another issue or a different approach in the closing days of the campaign?"
- Acosta question 5: "With the election over, do you have any concerns about subpoenas being issued or results from the Mueller investigation being released?"
- Acosta closes with "Thank you Mr. President"
If the scene had looked remotely like this, which by the way it does with many in the White House press corps, I would have defended Jim and said the White House was overreacting. However, it never looks like this with Acosta. He bloviates and pontificates like that is his job. It's not. It is to ask probing questions that end in a question mark without injecting his own opinion and report the answers.
His job is not to "speak truth to power". That is the job of commentators and activists. If he would like to be one of those things, he needs to hand his mic to someone that actually wants the title of "White House Correspondent". You know, the person that is supposed to tell us what the administration is saying and doing. Not how to feel about it.
Where I do have scores of training and experience is in Human Resources. Acosta is a screaming example of a poor person job match. What he wants to do is give his opinion. That is not desired behavior in the job he is in. If CNN were to be honest with themselves, this mismatch would be obvious. They would also realize that a significant amount of ill will from the public towards the network is because of the press conference spectacles and Acosta trying to be the news rather than reporting the news.
However, I do not think CNN will be honest with themselves. Acosta is already being set up as some kind of martyr to the First Amendment. He's not. I'd love to see a new face for CNN in the chair interesting in reporting instead of pontificating, but I doubt that is going to happen either. CNN will milk Acosta's grounding by the administration to make their network the story.
I will refer them back to standard Number 2 from Mr. Weiner. And they will still not understand why people don't trust them.