British novelist E.M. Forster once schooled a colleague for whining about a bad review. To the colleague’s demands for fair treatment, Forster replied that “No one made you write the novel.” Once published, Forster stated, critics and readers were under no obligation to be fair.
This same grown-up advice is even more true for journalists, a profession not for crybabies, as actor James Woods recently reminded CNN’s Jim Acosta.
By design, journalism involves holding the powerful accountable, and reporters should not whine when the powerful inevitably fight back.
But somewhere along the way to becoming CNN’s White House correspondent, Acosta must have forgotten that the powerful don’t have to be fair — or even polite — to reporters.
This month Acosta aired his hurt feelings concerning the Trump administration’s accusation that Acosta and his fellow journalists were peddling “fake news.”
“It is not fair. It is not fair. It is not just. It is un-American to come out here and call the press the enemy of the people,” Acosta said, according to Business Insider.
But a fellow journalist did not share Acosta’s belief that presidential administrations should play nice.
In response to Acosta’s complaint, David Shuster, formerly of MSNBC, wrote that reporters should not be “sad or happy” about how administrations treat reporters.
Hey Jim @acosta, the job of a true journalist is not to be sad or happy by what happens in a press briefing room. It is to ask questions and report facts about what was said/not said. Your feelings, antics, + self promotion are hurting journalism, not helping it. Enough. https://t.co/J1sO8enSBz
— David Shuster (@DavidShuster) August 3, 2018
They should instead ”ask questions and report facts about what was said/not said.” Shuster concluded that Acosta’s cries of foul treatment were “hurting and not helping” the journalism community.
But the most devastating attack on Acosta came from someone outside the journalistic profession: conservative actor James Woods.
Woods sought to educate Acosta about how reporters should behave in a free society:
Dear Jim, of course the press is not the enemy of the people. Unbiased, honest, responsible journalism is a bulwark of free society. Vain, narcissistic, biased blather is not journalism. You are, sir, are not a journalist, but you are the enema of the people. @Acosta @PressSec
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) August 3, 2018
“Unbiased, honest, responsible journalism is the bulwark of free society. Vain, narcissistic, biased blather is not journalism.”
Woods ended with a devastating take-down: “You are, sir, are (sic) not a journalist.”
But neither is Acosta’s network. For decades CNN has whined about the “alternative media” represented by Fox News and others.
Unable to produce the same ratings, CNN, rather than admit they are not doing their objective duty, rationalizes their lack of success as Fox News telling viewers what they want to hear.
But CNN ignores or won’t admit the true reason for the rise of the alternative media: It is because for decades the journalistic profession has given a free pass to political figures who share their liberal ideology.
Had CNN performed the duty of a free media that Woods knows and Acosta does not, then there would be no need for a Fox News. Or, for that matter, for a Western Journal.