Acosta opens up about war on the media, covering White House in new book
CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta has been called “the enemy of the people,” had his press pass briefly stripped away and has become an unwilling foil to U.S. President Donald Trump.
“(It) started off as an act where he would taunt and troll us and call us ‘fake news,’ and even the ‘enemy of the people’ and has really spiraled out of his control,” Acosta told CTV News Washington Bureau correspondent Richard Madan.
“This rhetoric, this behaviour that he engages in, he's been able to realize some short-term political gains up until this point,” Acosta added. “The question is can he sustain it and win re-election in 2020? I have my doubts.”
Acosta, who offers an insider’s account of covering the White House in his new book “Enemy of the People,” said Trump’s harsh verbal attacks ripple down to his supporters, who in turn take it out on journalists.
“There are some folks out there who described themselves as Trump supporters who have absorbed this hostility and are now directing it at us in ways that make us feel endangered,” he said.
While some CTV journalists go out of their way to showcase Canadian flags on their cameras to attempt to make Trump supporters friendlier, Acosta said his crew use a different tactic.
“We had to take our logos off of our camera and off of our equipment because the environment was that tense,” he said. “It was that hostile. And we shouldn’t have to do that.”
Acosta said it’s not their verbal attacks that most unnerve him. Last October, Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc allegedly mailed at least 13 pipe bombs to CNN’s New York headquarters and prominent Democratic Party politicians and donors.
After it was discovered that Sayoc targeted Acosta on Twitter, he was assigned a security detail.
TRUMP IS ‘CRAZY LIKE A FOX’: ACOSTA
In "Enemy of the People," Acosta describes a chaotic White House where Trump's own staff worry about his outbursts and erratic behaviour. But Acosta doesn’t necessarily believe the president is mentally unfit.
“I'm not a psychiatrist but what I would say … I think he's more crazy like a fox,” Acosta said, meaning that although his behaviour may look strange there is strategy behind it.
Acosta believes this may explain the odd justification behind Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, which the administration officially claimed was over supposed national security concerns. A top official went so far as to claim the reason was to stockpile domestic supplies “in the event of a third world war,” Acosta said. “It just sort of smacks as you know, being kind of a whopper.”
According to Acosta, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Trump for a reason, Trump responded with, “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” Trump appeared to be making a reference to the War of 1812 but he got his facts wrong. Canadians didn’t burn it down, the British did.
To cover the administration, Acosta said journalists “have to be tough.” But there have been some particularly uncomfortable moments.
“Trump often lashes out at Acosta, calling him “a rude person” during one famous exchange. Their combative interactions fuel online memes and praise from Acosta’s defenders who say he bravely calls out Trump’s media spin.”
The White House has described Acosta as a shameless self-promoter.
When asked whether he thinks he’s crossed any line, Acosta said he doesn’t believe he has. “No, I think that, day in and day out, I am dedicated to doing straight news reporting on this administration,” he said.
ON KELLYANNE CONWAY
Despite her public criticism of Acosta, Trump confidant Kellyanne Conway was one of the few officials to candidly speak on the record for the book.
Although Acosta said people are right to take Conway’s words with a grain of salt, she told him that she disagreed with Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people.”
Acosta says Conway also told him she disagreed with Trump’s zero-tolerance policy on migrants flooding into the southern U.S., which meant they could be jailed and separated from their children.
Conway famously said the White House had its own “alternative facts,” after then press secretary Sean Spicer made an obviously false statement about attendance during the Trump inauguration.
“When she told me that she messed up basically when she said ‘alternative facts,’ I think there was some truth to that,” Acosta said. “She didn’t mean it to be an Orwellian thing to excuse lies.”