The Current

CNN's Jim Acosta chronicles reporting under Trump, combating 'enemy of the people' rhetoric in new book

As CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta has been on the receiving end of multiple anti-fake news remarks from U.S. President Donald Trump. In his new book, Acosta reflects on his career in a position that is regularly subject to attacks from Trump supporters and the president himself.

'We shouldn't have the U.S. government smearing journalists ... because they don't like the reporting'

In his new book, Jim Acosta reflects on his career in a position that is regularly subject to attacks from Trump supporters and the president himself. (AFP/Getty Images)
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During his time as CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta has been called "a rude, terrible person," the "enemy of the people," and a perpetrator of "fake news" by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Initially, the rapport between the two was not so tense, but once the tone shifted, the journalist says some Trump supporters "absorbed the president's rhetoric."

A culminating moment of such rhetoric was last October when a Florida man sent a wave of pipe bombs to CNN and prominent critics of the president.

"Well, at that point, I thought, OK, now we have crossed over from rhetoric to a dangerous time," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Later that fall, Acosta's White House press credentials were temporarily revoked hours after a heated exchange during a news conference.

The White House suspended CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass after accusing him of "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern" during an exchange with Trump. 0:34

"We shouldn't have the United States government smearing journalists, trying to run them out of town because they don't like the reporting that they did," he said.

Acosta explores his time covering the White House during Trump's presidency in his new book, The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America.

He spoke to Tremonti about his book and his career. Here is part of their conversation.

You have covered many Trump rallies. How have Trump's supporters treated you?

Well, let me just say from the get-go: I've run across so many Trump supporters who have just been absolutely delightful people and very nice and they'll come up to me and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry that folks are not nice to you" and they'll ask for a selfie or an autograph.

But there are folks, no question about it, from time to time, who have, I think, absorbed the president's rhetoric and then directed that hostility at us in ways that are menacing and make us feel endangered as journalists covering these events.

You know, I think about this rally that the president had in Columbia, South Carolina, where a lady told me I need to stop being so rude to the president and the press secretary or "you're going to start another civil war," she said, "you're going to have people shooting each other." And I thought, my goodness, are folks so emotionally invested in this man and this president that they would say such a thing?

Acosta says he used 'enemy of the people' in his book title as a way of reclaiming the term, often used by Trump. (HarperCollins Canada)

Well, last year pipe bombs were sent to CNN and other news outlets as well as to Democratic Party politicians. What was your reaction when you learned that?

Well, at that point, I thought, OK, now we have crossed over from rhetoric to a dangerous time.

If there is a Trump supporter out there who is so upset with what's going on … that they think it's OK to send a pipe bomb in the mail to CNN, then I think we've reached a point where we have to hit the pause button and ask folks to think deeply about whether or not this is something that we should be doing. And one thing that we found after that person was arrested in that white van covered in anti-media signage — as we all remember — is that on his social media account, he had directed several death threats at me, and one saying, "You're next. You're America's enemy" and so on.

I've had a steady stream of this stuff since President Trump has been in office and it's just unlike anything that I've ever experienced before as a journalist. I want folks to think about that and say, "Wait a minute, is this the country that we want to have?"

Near the end of your book, you say that "across the country by 2020, people will have come of age exposed to a dangerous rhetoric that distorts our collective sense of reality and it will have consequences we cannot fully appreciate." What are you afraid of?

What I'm afraid of is ...  that we're gonna have kids, you know, grow into young adults who believe it's OK to only get their news from information sources that share their point of view.

That, I think, poses a real threat because we have to have an informed population making decisions that affect our daily lives.

Folks who work in this line of work, who are in the news business, are here to give you information. We're here to do the news. We're not here to try to taint things or spin things a certain way. And we can't get to a point in this country where, you know, millions and millions of people have essentially been indoctrinated to think that the press is the enemy of the people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Émilie Quesnel with files from CBC News. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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