The White House has revoked the press pass of Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, after a testy exchange between the reporter and President Trump at a news conference on Wednesday. Acosta posed a question about the Central American migrant caravan, challenging Trump’s framing of it as an “invasion” meant to reap political advantage. An irritated Trump tried to move on, but Acosta resisted relinquishing the floor. When a White House press aide—a young woman—attempted to retrieve the microphone from Acosta, a light skirmish ensued, and was captured on film.
The White House called Acosta’s exchange with the aide an inappropriate physical contact. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that President Trump “believes in a free press” but will “never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman.”
The original incident has exploded into shrapnel. Trump’s disdain for the media appears to have crossed over into suppression, only a day after U.S. midterm elections produced a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives—and with it the promise of intense new scrutiny on the president. Critics have also accused the White House of deploying false information about the incident. When White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted about suspending Acosta’s press pass, she included a video of the pressroom incident as evidence that supposedly justified the censure. But observers quickly pointed out that the clip she shared didn’t appear to be the original video, but a “doctored” version, which had been sped up in order to make the contact between Acosta and the aide appear more aggressive than the original footage had done.
Journalists and Trump opponents have sprung into action, investigating the doctored video, defending Acosta and the media, or even calling for a boycott on the part of the White House press corps. Though valiant, those efforts might miss the point. The incident shows how adept and deliberate politicians have been, for decades now, at deploying words, images, and video to advance their ends—even absconding with the ideas, words, and values of their opponents in the process.