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Should Reporters Boycott White House Press Briefings After CNN Press Badge Revoked?


There was a moment during President Trump's press conference yesterday. You may have seen it. CNN's Jim Acosta is pressing the president to answer questions about the Russia investigation.


JIM ACOSTA: If I may ask one other question, Mr. President...

KELLY: A White House intern rushes up and tries to wrest the microphone from his hand. The two bump into each other. He says...


ACOSTA: Pardon me, ma'am.

KELLY: The president then tells Acosta...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You are rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN.

KELLY: A few hours later - so last night - the White House revoked Acosta's hard pass, which is prompting calls for reporters to boycott future briefings in solidarity. Whether that is a good idea or not is a question I want to put to Olivier Knox. Knox is president of the White House Correspondents' Association and chief Washington correspondent for Sirius XM radio. Hey, Olivier.

OLIVIER KNOX: How are you?

KELLY: I am doing OK. I guess you are probably having a very busy day fielding calls on this. And I want to start with the question of precedent. Is there precedent for a White House reporter to have their hard pass yanked because the White House doesn't like the questions that they were asking or the way that they were asking them at an official briefing?

KNOX: No, there's not. There's a small precedent of the White House denying access to someone who was not hard pass-credentialed, someone who had to apply for admission every single day.

KELLY: Right, the hard pass allows you to come and go at odd hours without having to apply each time.

KNOX: That's right.

KELLY: So safe to say this is unusual.

KNOX: Yes, it's deeply unusual. And in my view, it's entirely disproportionate to the alleged offense.

KELLY: And to this question of whether the White House press corps should stand with CNN, should boycott future briefings, what do you think?

KNOX: CNN has not asked other outlets to do that. You know, in this kind of situation, I'll take a lot of my cues from what the network itself is doing in response. Right now I'm making a public and private case to the administration to reconsider this decision. But we'll see what CNN decides to do.

KELLY: So at the moment it's business as usual, reporters who are with hard passes coming and going from the White House, filing from there as they would on any other day.

KNOX: With the exception of frenetic email traffic about what happened yesterday, yes.

KELLY: Your email box is overflowing?

KNOX: It is overflowing.

KELLY: I was going to ask. Are - you must also be hearing from people who are siding with the White House position on this, saying his questioning was crossing a line into being obnoxious, and they have a right to revoke a hard pass if they want to.

KNOX: I am of course hearing from those people. I will simply say, though, that it's a pretty basic principle that a president does not get to decide who covers them. And one of the things that I've heard from many colleagues nationally and internationally is essentially if they can do this today to Jim, they can do it tomorrow to somebody else.

KELLY: Is this a deliberate tactic on the part of the White House? If we're all talking about the president's feud with the media, that is time that we are not talking about Trump firing Jeff Sessions yesterday or the fact that Republicans just lost the House or any of the other important things we could be talking about.

KNOX: The conflict between Donald Trump and the media is definitely a strategy this White House has embraced. Whether this particular wrinkle was tactical I'm not sure. You know, I would point out that that was a weird press conference for other reasons - the president issuing a kind of half threat, half cajoling of House Democrats. He did not answer questions about relations with Russia. He sidestepped quite a lot. And in fact, he also sidestepped a question directly about the fate of Jeff Sessions even though we now know he had already asked for Jeff Sessions' resignation.

KELLY: That prompts the question, what is the value of the White House press briefing at this stage anyway?

KNOX: Showing that the most powerful political institution in American life is not above being questioned. And beyond that, the daily briefing has a couple of other components. One is this president has taken a lot of questions. But when you're talking to the president, you're not going to be like, oh, hey, is that meeting on Friday still happening; which senators were sitting where around the table? That's not what you ask the president. It is something, though, you can ask during the briefing. The other thing is a lot of news outlets are down to one or two people. And the idea that you could look at the White House schedule and see that you had a 2 p.m. opportunity set aside for taking questions meant that - for those smaller outlets that they could have someone there at the White House. For the medium and smaller outlets, the briefing has enormous value.

KELLY: So bottom line for you sounds like this ritual still has value, and there is value to reporters showing up and asking these questions.

KNOX: I think that's absolutely right.

KELLY: Olivier Knox of Sirius XM - he is president of the White House Correspondents' Association. Olivier, thanks so much.

KNOX: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.