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Is court ruling on CNN press pass a ‘win for the White House?’

President Trump and the news media have long shared a strained relationship. On Friday, a federal court ordered the White House to reinstate a CNN reporter's revoked press pass. Yamiche Alcindor reports, and Judy Woodruff speaks with Marc Lotter, former communications adviser to the vice president, and the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan for more on the ruling and this precarious dynamic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There was a brief break in the tense relationship between the White House and the news media today.

    A federal judge ruled that CNN correspondent Jim Acosta's press credential must be reinstated after it was taken away last week.

    As Yamiche Alcindor tells us, the ruling was a temporary win for CNN.

  • President Donald Trump:

    That's enough.

  •  Jim Acosta:

    Pardon me, ma'am.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump vs. CNN, a case that centers around this exchange last week at a White House press conference.

  •  Jim Acosta:

    Mr. President, are you worried about indictments coming down in this investigation?

  • Question:

    Mr. President?

  • President Donald Trump:

    I will tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Acosta was being punished for — quote — "placing his hands" on a White House intern.

    She later tweeted out an edited video of the exchange.

  •  Jim Acosta:

    I'm grateful for my colleagues in the press.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Friday afternoon, Acosta returned to the White House and reacted to the ruling.

  •  Jim Acosta:

    That's my cue to go back to work.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In an interview with FOX News today, Mr. Trump said the White House is now planning to come up with new rules for press conferences.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Nobody believes in the First Amendment more than I do, and if I think somebody is acting out of sorts, I will leave. I will say, thank you very much, everybody, I appreciate you coming, and I will leave.

    And those reporters will not be too friendly to whoever it is that's acting up.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president has often sparred with a number of reporters, including myself.

    On the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying…

  • President Donald Trump:

    I don't know why you'd say that. That's such a racist question.

  • Question:

    One point of fact, because you told her you have the highest approval among African-Americans.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Quiet. Quiet. Quiet.

    Go ahead.

  • Question:

    It's just 8 percent, sir, single digits.

  • President Donald Trump:

    See, when you talk about division, it's people like this that cause division. Great division.

  • Question:

    Do you want him to rein in Robert Mueller?

  • President Donald Trump:

    What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For years, President Trump has said the media doesn't cover him fairly.

  • President Donald Trump:

    No. When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president's supporters have embraced his strategy.

  • Audience:

    CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today's ruling is just one step in what might be a long battle over press freedom and the White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now.

    Yamiche, we were just talking about this. Covering the White House is simply a more contentious thing than it was when I covered it decades ago, isn't it?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It is.

    And after this ruling, President Trump was talking about decorum, but covering the Trump White House is not an orderly thing. The president has lashed out at reporters. He frequently interrupts reporters when you're trying to ask the question.

    Sarah Sanders has questioned the integrity and the fairness of reporters. So, often, people think that reporters are being rude when they're watching at home on TV. But, really, I can say from experience that sometimes we have to talk over the president or Sarah Sanders in order to get a question in, and in order to finish your thought.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, thank you, Yamiche. It's important to get your perspective.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We continue our look at the president's relationship with the press with Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post media columnist and longtime journalist. And Marc Lotter, he served as press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence and as special assistant to the president.

    Welcome to both of you.

    And, Marc Lotter, let's start with you.

    This judge today ruled on narrow grounds. He said the White House had to give Jim Acosta his pass back because he had been denied due process. So where does that leave us?

  • Marc Lotter:

    I think, long term, it's a win for the White House and actually for future presidents, because this was a very tailored decision that wasn't related around the First Amendment and unrestricted access to the White House, but on a due process side.

    And the president today and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders have indicated they're going to developing procedures and protocols to be followed. And then that will give them the future ability to take necessary actions if decorum and procedures are broken.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Margaret Sullivan, where do you think we are after this judge's ruling today?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    I think it was a clear win for press rights.

    And while it wasn't, as Marc says, strictly on First Amendment grounds, but rather on process grounds, it does give Jim Acosta his press credential back, which is important.

    And the judge did give — give some thought, and some of his reasoning had to do with First Amendment issues. So I think that press advocates, press freedom advocate can feel very good about this.

    And as both you know, this was a case in which the complaint by CNN was joined by many press organizations, news organizations and advocacy organizations. So I'm very happy about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Marc Lotter, is there evidence that — on either side on whether Jim Acosta his First Amendment rights were violated?

  • Marc Lotter:

    Well, I don't think it was from a First Amendment standpoint. I think this was more about procedurals — at a procedural…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I mean the larger question that the judge is going to be dealing with in the next few weeks.

  • Marc Lotter:

    I don't think from a — I don't think there is a fundamental First Amendment right to be able to have access to the White House.

    Now, as an organization, CNN still does have very many press credentials. They can come and go. This was a one-time limitation for a specific violation of those protocols.

    And government has long done this. I mean, I can only imagine what a federal judge would do, or maybe even the federal judge in this case, if a photojournalist showed up with a camera or a reporting device. They have norms, they have procedures. And in this case, since they thought that was — those were violated, they took the steps they did.

    We will write those procedures out now, and hopefully it will be a little more clear moving forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I want to ask about that, Margaret Sullivan.

    But what about this point that Marc just made that the White House has a right to determine who covers it?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    I don't think that's the case in a situation in which there is general press access like this.

    The president can decide, I'm going to give an exclusive interview to Lester Holt, let's say. But in a case like this, in which there is many members of the press, there's no reason to think, from past laws, that — passed cases — that he can pick someone out and say, no I don't like you, you can't come.

    Rather, there is an understanding from a 1977 case that in a — in a situation like that this, there does need to be general access.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Marc Lotter, I mean, the White House argument this — in the last few days has been, we get to decide who covers us.

    I don't remember a White House making that argument before.

  • Marc Lotter:

    Well, and I think in the case, again, though, I think we're talking about the decorum and procedures about the White House Briefing Room or White House access in general.

    And we have seen in many occasions where a president will call on a reporter, the mic will be handed to them, and — but, actually, they were talking about the reporter behind them. We have seen where the reporter will turn around and give that microphone to someone else.

    When we have basic violations of kind of those customs and norms, we — there needs to be some sort of action that the White House can take. That's why they're going to develop these procedures. They will develop some sort of guidelines for those procedural things. And hopefully we won't have these kinds of issues happen in the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Margaret Sullivan, are their guidelines for decorum that you think both the press and the White House could agree on?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    I mean, it is a little rich to talk about decorum, when you think of the way the president has treated and spoken about the news media, as the enemy of the people and as, you know, the scum of the earth, essentially.

    I mean, I don't see how the White House gets to lecture about decorum.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Marc? I mean, this president has been…

  • Marc Lotter:

    Well, let's — let's — let's remember, I mean, there's there's been a battle between the press and the president since the founding days of our republic.

    And I would also point out that President Obama's administration actually secretly surveilled reporters and their families. They obtained phone records from the Associated Press and subpoenaed e-mails and phone records from New York Times reporters.

    So there's never been — there's always been an uneasy balance between the two. And that's the way the system is set up to be. And I think it works that way. Sometimes, we will see it pushed too far one way or the other, but I think we will find balance there in the end.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Marc Lotter, just quickly, I think most people would agree this president has been tougher in his criticism of the press than any president in modern memory.

  • Marc Lotter:

    I think he's been very pointed in his — in his commentary on that, and especially when he points out to issues of bias or things that would be constituted, as he likes to say, fake news.

    He would like to see a level playing field and to see things covered in a fair and unbiased fashion. He will call that out. And the way the president would view it, I would believe, is much of the same First Amendment rights that apply to the freedom of the press also apply for the speech to criticize that press, if, in fact, we disagree in terms of what the coverage is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Margaret Sullivan, where do you see this headed? Do you see a smoother working relationship between the president and the press?

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    No, I don't. I don't think that the relationship between the news media and President Trump's administration is ever going to be particularly smooth.

    He actually does, I think, want and uses the press as kind of foil. So I don't see it smoothing out. But I do think it's heartening that this initial ruling suggests that the president can't pick and choose who covers him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Marc Lotter, Margaret Sullivan, this is one more episode in that ongoing saga of President Trump and the press corps.

  • Marc Lotter:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We thank you both very much.

  • Margaret Sullivan:

    Thank you.

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