Does CNN Owe Trump An Apology?


On Wednesday evening, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer demanded an apology from CNN reporter Jim Acosta for his “rude, inappropriate, and disrespectful” behavior during President-Elect Trump’s wild press conference. Acosta had the temerity to badger Trump for a question, which Trump refused to give while labeling CNN “fake news.” Spicer told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, “I think Mr. Acosta owes the president-elect and frankly the entire press corps an apology for his childish and inappropriate behavior.” Spicer then said, “I informed him that I thought that no one should be treated that…disrespectfully, and that if he did it again in the future, I would have him removed,” adding, “No one needs to be treated with that level of disrespect and rudeness.”

And Spicer tweeted about it:

So, should CNN apologize to Trump?

That question is really two questions: first, should Acosta apologize for yelling questions at Trump? Second, should CNN apologize for its report on Trump’s briefing by the intelligence community?

Here’s the short answer: No, and no.

First, Acosta’s behavior. Acosta was responding to Trump ripping into CNN’s allegations regarding the intelligence community briefing Trump. He insisted that Trump allow him to ask a question, and Trump refused. As Tucker Carlson should have noted – after all, this was his reporter at the time – this happened with The Daily Caller’s Neil Munro and Barack Obama. Munro asked, “Why’d you favor foreigners over Americans?” regarding Obama’s actions with regard to illegal immigrants. “Excuse me, sir, but it’s not time for questions,” Obama responded. “Are you going to take questions?” Munro asked. Obama shot back, “Not while I’m speaking.” Here was Carlson then: “This is what reporters are supposed to do. They’re supposed to get their questions answered. It’s hard to know what’s wrong with asking the president a question.”

Oh, how times have changed.

Acosta has every right to yell questions to Trump, and Trump has every right to shut him down. End of story. No apologies necessary. And Spicer’s threat to bar Acosta is overwrought.

Second, the more important question: does CNN owe Trump an apology for its story?

Again, the answer is no. That’s because CNN’s reporting is at least under dispute. Trump says that he was never informed about the summary of information contained in a series of memos later released by BuzzFeed; CNN says he was informed of the summary. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that Trump received the information but said that the intelligence community didn’t judge the veracity of the memos:

We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.

Here’s how Trump summarized Clapper’s take:

This is, to put it mildly, inaccurate according to Clapper himself. Clapper’s statement seems to confirm CNN’s reporting.

But that hasn’t stopped Trump from attacking CNN with the same level of vitriol as BuzzFeed.

This prompted CNN’s Jake Tapper to respond snarkily:

Trump’s team knows that Trump’s not right in his characterization of the CNN report. So they’ve attempted to link CNN’s reporting to BuzzFeed’s by falsely claiming that CNN linked directly to BuzzFeed. CNN didn’t, even though Kellyanne Conway insisted they had.

So, should CNN apologize for its reporting? No. Actually, there’s a stronger case that Trump should apologize for mischaracterizing CNN’s reporting. But that’s never going to happen, of course.