What’s a bigger threat to our freedom of the press — a reporter losing his White House press pass or a commentator being targeted at his home by a threatening mob?
On Wednesday, two news media figures became the story themselves. CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta was stripped of his credentials following an incident during a press conference with President Trump. When a female White House intern motioned for him to surrender the microphone following a nasty exchange, he refused. As she reached for it, the White House said, he placed his hand on her.
The other media member story was of Antifa members surrounding the home of Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson. “We know where you sleep at night” chanted the group in a video it posted to social media.
The mob vandalized the Carlsons’ driveway with graffiti, tried to break down their front door, shared the family’s address on social media and encouraged others to confront him.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Carlson said: “It wasn’t a protest. It was a threat. They weren’t protesting anything specific that I had said. They weren’t asking me to change anything. They weren’t protesting a policy or advocating for legislation . . . They were threatening me and my family and telling me to leave my own neighborhood in the city that I grew up in.”
Carlson’s wife hid in a back room until police arrived. Their four children were not at home at the time.
Somehow, only one of these events is seen as an existential threat to freedom of the press — and it’s not the one where the Fox News host’s wife locked herself in the bedroom.
“President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted, regarding Acosta. “We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.”
Acosta, played martyr, changing his Twitter banner to a picture of the Constitution. CNN called his suspension “unprecedented” and “a threat to our democracy.”
He drew plenty of sympathy: #IStandWithAcosta trended on Twitter, and much of the media (on both sides) rallied behind him and slammed the ban. Peter Baker at The New York Times called Sanders’ justification “fake predicate to punish a reporter.” Conservatives, like Ben Shapiro and Chuck Ross at the Daily Caller, called out the White House’s lame excuse for the suspension.
The response to the mob at the Carlson house, meanwhile, was far more muted. There were some condemnations, sure. Stephen Colbert called the mob’s actions “an act of monstrous cowardice.” But few seemed to connect that physically threatening Tucker Carlson was a far greater assault on our freedom of press than Jim Acosta losing his White House credentials.
The White House, after all, didn’t bar Acosta because of his coverage, which isn’t wildly different from that of other media, but because of his grandstanding and lack of decorum. Indeed, he has been making a spectacle of himself for some time now.
In August, during a press briefing about immigration with senior adviser Stephen Miller, Acosta stood up and recited the poem etched on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. He’s famous for shouting over other reporters.
If Acosta doesn’t get his credentials back, CNN can assign a more respectful reporter to cover the White House. Our freedom of the press will remain intact even if Acosta doesn’t get to be the liberal hero confronting Trump.
What happened with Carlson, however, is a real threat to speech and press freedom. It’s why protesters get police protection. The threat of violence can’t be allowed to shut down speech. Members of the press should be able to say what they want without a mob targeting their families. If we don’t push back, the virus will spread.
After Sarah Sanders was hounded from the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia, I predicted the mob wouldn’t stop there: “What about talking heads or opinion columnists who defend [Trump’s] policies, are they now barred from the Red Hen, too? What about those of us who generally disagree with the administration but sometimes find ourselves on the same side? Are we only welcome on alternate weeks?”
That’s the problem with mob justice: Mobsters are never satisfied. Those concerned about Acosta should be doubly worried about Carlson. Violent agitators who try to shut down speech through intimidation keep adding targets — and anyone could be next.