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Oppenheim: CNN’s Lawsuit

Quick recap: White House correspondent Jim Acosta has been a fly in the president’s ointment for a while. It’s no secret not everyone loves him as a reporter and some White House colleagues even feel he’s something of a grand-stander. But like him or not, there’s no denying that Acosta has fired direct questions at the President and press secretary.

In fact, just after the election, when Acosta asked Trump why he was mischaracterizing members of an immigrant caravan as invaders, the President got mad.

A White House intern tried to take Acosta’s mic, but he wouldn’t let go. Later, he was falsely accused by the White House of assaulting the intern and his White House pass was revoked.

Yes, CNN prevailed – and Acosta is back on the job. But imagine what it must’ve been like at CNN just after the pass was taken. The top brass had a difficult decision. Would they shout and scream but essentially do nothing – or – would they go to court?

If they did, they knew the essential name of any lawsuit would be called CNN versus Donald Trump. And that’s not something CNN would want.

Despite all you hear about liberal bias in the media, one of the most intense biases in the electronic media business is money. CNN wants ratings. Sure, the network sometimes goes for ratings with superficial content, but overall, it strives to be objective and fair. And it does so because, more often than not, that down the middle approach attracts audiences.

So it was no small thing for network brass to decide to sue – knowing they’d be taking the risk they’d be perceived as partisan, which could be bad for the bottom line.

But arguably, it would’ve been a bigger problem if CNN had let the administration dictate who gets to cover the White House. It’s hard to see how the public could regard the network as an honest broker, if it allowed itself to be bullied.

In the end, it came down to whether a for-profit media organization would be allowed to hold truth to power, or whether those in power would be allowed to manipulate the truth.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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