The White House has revoked CNN journalist Jim Acosta’s press pass. Not for his questions asking Donald Trump about the Russia investigation or how the president was “scare-mongering” about Mexican immigrants. No, Jim Acosta’s press pass was removed because, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, he placed “his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern”.
How convenient that, in an era defined by women’s stories of sexual harassment and assault, the White House now has its very own example of #MeToo in action. But unfortunately for Trump and his team, the whole incident was caught on camera and it’s clear that this is, in fact, not a #MeToo moment at all. Instead of showing the aggressive contact they’ve claimed, the footage shows a journalist resisting efforts by White House staff to silence him. It shows the fourth estate in action. Here is the footage in question:
In it, we see Trump’s impatience at Acosta asking a question, immediately saying, “Here we go,” when the journalist stands. When the president tells Acosta he has had enough of his line of questioning, the woman approaches him to take the microphone away. When he resists – by turning away and saying, “Pardon me, ma’am,” she forcibly reaches for the mic. It is here that Acosta’s other arm seemingly innocently makes contact with the woman’s arm – the incident that led to the White House revoking Acosta’s pass.
It’s possible that this was planned. That the female intern was meant to take the microphone from Acosta so the Trump administration would have a reason to revoke his pass, but that feels a little too much like a conspiracy theory. It’s more likely that the White House saw an opportunity too good to pass. Some bright spark in Trump’s camp probably saw Acosta touch the woman’s arm when she attempted to forcibly remove the microphone from his hand and thought, “Bingo.” Later, Acosta uploaded a video in which a secret service officer took away his hard pass to the press room. Without it, Acosta – CNN’s chief political White House correspondent – will no longer be able to enter the grounds without going through severe, lengthy security checks.
It is unspeakably hypocritical for Donald Trump’s White House to use assault of a woman for political gain
Both Acosta and CNN strongly deny the claims made by Huckabee Sanders, and the media company maintains that the journalist’s removal from the press room is “a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better”. Safe to say, Acosta’s employer is standing right behind him. Huckabee Sanders, on the other hand, has apparently proven the assault with slowed-down, dramatically edited footage of the moment – a masterclass in “fake news” manipulation.
It is unspeakably hypocritical for Donald Trump’s White House to use assault of a woman for political gain. This is a man who has himself been accused of at least 16 counts of sexual misconduct, abuse, harassment or rape – all of which he has denied – and yet he is still allowed to hold the highest office in the country. But in the eyes of his administration – and, crucially, his supporters – these allegations are just “fake news” and nothing more than attempts to bring down and discredit the truth-telling president they perceive Trump to be.
The president has repeatedly denounced the #MeToo movement, most notably in his mocking of Christine Blasey Ford for crying during her testimony against Brett Kavanaugh. More recently, he announced his disappointment that the current culture’s political correctness meant he couldn’t call women “beautiful” any more. And, of course, there’s his infamous “grab them by the pussy” way of thinking. But when #MeToo works in his favour, when it can be used as a tool to further his anti-press agenda, it suddenly becomes a legitimate movement.
This hypocrisy is somewhat of a theme within Trump’s camp, most notably so in the case of congressman and anti-abortion campaigner Tim Murphy. While Murphy’s voting record shows a very clear stance on his hatred of abortions, text messages between the congressman and his previous mistress reveal that he once encouraged her to go through with a termination when she accidentally became pregnant. He was anti-abortion – unless it worked for him. There are too many other examples of this kind of double standard for pro-life Republicans.
At the centre of this argument between Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Jim Acosta, between CNN and the president, between the press and the government, is just one woman. We have not heard from the woman known only as “a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern” and we do not know how she feels about this moment furthering Trump’s political ideology. Since she works in the administration, she probably supports the move, but we don’t know that for sure. Either way, this argument is bigger than just her.
It’s also about all the women and men who have been brave enough to raise their voices and say #MeToo, even when the powerful people they were accusing tried to stop them. When the men who actively uphold a patriarchal, dangerous government co-opt the pain of #MeToo to push their own agenda, we lose the power women’s voices hold. We cannot allow that to happen.