With Jim Acosta Tape, the White House Turns Gaslighting into an Art

With Jim Acosta Tape, the White House Turns Gaslighting into an Art

November 8, 2018 0 By admin

“I’ve just been denied entrance to the [White House],” CNN’s Jim Acosta tweeted on Wednesday evening. “Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit.” Hours earlier, Acosta, the self-appointed gladiator of the White House press corps (“Will you stop calling the press the enemy of the people, sir?” he once yelled from the very back of a room), had once again squared off with Donald Trump, asking why the president used the word “invasion” to refer to a caravan of migrants traveling to the U.S. to seek asylum. The exchange culminated in Trump calling Acosta a “rude, terrible person,” and a White House intern attempting to recover the mic. Replays show Acosta reflexively dropping his hands, accidentally bumping the intern’s arm on the way down. This, it seems, was enough of a pretext for the White House to mount one of its most flagrant smear campaigns to date. “We will . . . never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Wednesday night, making it sound as if Acosta might be the next Bill Clinton.

In effect, the White House was asking Trump’s allies for the ultimate show of loyalty: to disbelieve their own lying eyes. And thanks to years of conditioning in which they parroted Trump’s progressively more hysterical “mistruths,” many were all too willing to comply. As the press rose to Acosta’s defense—“I was seated next to ⁦@Acosta⁩ at today’s press conference and did not witness him ‘placing his hands’ on the young intern, as the White House alleges,” tweeted Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason, who also attached several photos of the incident—Trump’s base began to accuse Acosta of “karate chopping” the intern, suggesting he’d deserved his expulsion. “.@RealDonaldTrump WH took action over @Acosta’s karate chop of the female press aide’s arm. What will @CNN do?” tweeted Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton.

Others piled on. “This type of physical aggressiveness with a young woman is inappropriate,” added Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway. “Being asked repeatedly to act like an adult, refusing, karate-chopping when the intern finally comes up to give the mic to the next reporter, etc. This is just not defensible behavior from an adult man.” Many proved eerily willing to comply with the White House’s implicit request that they ignore the evidence before them. “There’s a robust debate to be had about degree to which WH should get to choose who reports on POTUS. But I’m mystified by this claim that Sanders lied when she said Acosta put his hands on that woman, who was only trying to do her job,” wrote Omri Ceren, a national security adviser to Ted Cruz. “I’m looking at a video of it. With my eyes.” Meanwhile, others began sharing another, more misleading video, posted by Sanders and amplified by many on the right, that made Acosta’s gesture seem more aggressive than it was. It originated with conspiracy theorist and Infowars correspondent Paul Joseph Watson, who, as many pointed out, seemed to have selectively sped up the footage.

Still, even among those on the right, there were holdouts—people who presumably recoiled when asked to doubt their own powers of perception. “This is not what happened,” insisted Ben Shapiro. “You could have banned him simply for refusing to abide by any of the normal rules of the press room. No need to state something happened that didn’t.” “After Trump joked about [Greg] Gianforte bodyslamming Ben Jacobs the White House can’t bust out the fainting couch now,” quipped Daily Caller correspondent Chuck Ross. But it was a controversial stance to take, as radio host Erick Erickson evinced when he caveated his defense with an apology: “Y’all, I’m sorry to defy the tribe . . . I don’t think this was @Acosta karate chopping a woman as some claim. [He] actually pulls his arm back really quickly when he realizes he has touched her and says ‘pardon me ma’am.’ This whole thing is ridiculous.”

From a forgiving perspective, the footage is a prime example of two political factions seeing what they want to see, perhaps twisting the evidence to better fit their viewpoint (“So the Acosta thing is turning into the ideological partisan version of the blue and black dress,” Commentary’s John Podhoretz joked). But the implications of the White House’s Orwellian ruling are much more alarming. Even before the midterms, the administration had a habit of stretching the truth to the breaking point, once attempting to convince a cadre of reporters that the sun was not, in fact, in the sky. After Tuesday’s electoral defeats, Trump’s sense that his back is against the wall only seems to have increased, with a source telling my colleague Gabriel Sherman that he is “very upset” and “very depressed.” What comes of this foul mood? For one, the immediate firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which has widely been read as an attack on Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. For another, a prolonged smear campaign against one of Trump’s least favorite reporters, whom he seemingly delights in sparring against. And as the spin machine dials up, it pushes the factions of the country further and further apart. “What is the point. Seriously,” asked columnist Dan Hodges. “What are we all doing here. If we can’t actually agree on the evidence of our own eyes, what is the point of even attempting to engage.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Omri Ceren shared the original video of Acosta, not the edited one posted by Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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Tina NguyenTina Nguyen is a reporter for The Hive, covering politics and the media.

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