EDITORIAL: Press corps must push back on bully Trump

York Dispatch Editorial Board

How come President Donald Trump has barely mentioned the caravan of would-be immigrants to America since Election Day?

Is the president worried that declaring himself “a nationalist” is emboldening white nationalists around the country?

Does the president want his newly appointed acting attorney general to rein in special counsel Robert Mueller?

Good questions, all. But all were met last week with personal insults — and worse — by Trump.

Never a fan of the free press or its many practitioners in the White House Press Corps and beyond, the president lent full spleen to his hostility in post-election press gatherings. It was a sour, infantile and, quite frankly, embarrassing display — made all the worse by the administration’s move to pull the White House press pass of one of the reporters posing inconveniently pointed questions at the president.

CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta was barred from the White House following a particularly nasty back-and-forth during the president’s Wednesday press conference.

FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump watches as a White House aide reaches to take away a microphone from CNN journalist Jim Acosta during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. CNN is suing the Trump administration, demanding that Acosta’s press credentials to cover the White House be returned. The administration revoked them last week following President Trump’s contentious news conference, where Acosta refused to give up a microphone when the president said he didn’t want to hear anything more from him. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Acosta’s questions about the newsworthiness of the caravan and related issues drew insults and admonishments from Trump before a female intern attempted to wrest the microphone from the reporter’s hand.

Acosta, blocking the intern from the microphone, attempted to pursue his line of questioning while Trump derided him as a “rude, terrible person.” It was a high point for neither the media nor the administration.

But the White House went lower still, pulling Acosta’s credentials for purportedly “placing his hands on a young woman” — the intern. To bolster its case, the administration shamelessly  used an apparently doctored videotape of the press conference.

The edited tape — reportedly from the conspiracy website InfoWars — was an Orwellian attempt at rewriting events; one for which the administration must own up and make amends. In more ethical times, dismissals would be appropriate; though we’ve come to expect far, far less than ethical behavior from this lot.

Trump, meanwhile, insulted three other reporters after the election, each of whom happened to be women of color: April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks, CNN’s Abby Phillip and Yamiche Alcindor of PBS.

Alcindor asked Trump to respond to concerns his language could embolden white nationalists. She was criticized by the president for asking “a racist question.” Of Ryan, Trump said “she’s a loser and she doesn’t know what she’s doing.” And when Phillips asked about Trump wanting new DOJ leadership to muffle the Mueller investigation? “What a stupid question!” scoffed Trump.

The real question now lies with the nation’s news organizations. Never mind the president’s boorishness; there’s nothing in the Constitution requiring basic decency from office-holders (though that would improve the state of politics immensely). The question is: How will the White House Press Corps respond to Acosta’s suspension?

The initial answer, sadly, is “tepidly.” There was little immediate response, other than statements of disapproval, and no demonstrations of solidarity.

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, CNN sued the Trump administration, demanding that Acosta’s press credentials to cover the White House be returned.

More:CNN sues Trump, demanding return of Acosta to White House

It's a start, but hardly the concerted response needed to defend the First Amendment from the president's worst instincts.

You don’t stand up to a bully, you are very likely to be bullied again. Recall, the White House barred another reporter, CNN’s Kaitlin Collins, from an event this summer after she asked what it deemed an inappropriate question. Who will be the next reporter sent to the penalty box?

Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them. (If they did, the current Press Corps would likely consist entirely of correspondents from “Fox & Friends” and right-wing websites.) The nation’s news organizations must press this point with the White House.

The media is not, as the president again charged Wednesday, the enemy of the people. But the president is very much the enemy of the media.

Journalists must stand strong in the face of a president that seeks to undermine their credibility, their professionalism and, in the case of Acosta, their ability to simply do their job. To do so, they must stand together in standing up to the bully.