CNN's Jim Acosta talks Trump, pandemic, journalism

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CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta has gained a reputation for being relentless. In a conversation with The Berkshire Eagle's Kevin Moran over Zoom on Thursday evening, Acosta defended the importance of tough questions while discussing germs, journalism and the future of the White House.

"If they're not coming at you a little bit, you're not doing your job right," he said.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Berkshire Community College hosted the free event, titled "The Enemy of the People: One Year, One Impeachment, and One Pandemic Later," to over 900 viewers. OLLI Executive Director Megan Whilden said she was "delighted" to welcome Acosta back after his lecture to a full house last year at the Mahaiwe Theater.

"I knew that our members in the Berkshire community would really enjoy hearing from him again," Whilden said.

Lisa Sharkey, senior vice president at Acosta's publishing company HarperCollins, opened the night by introducing the two panelists. Moran has worked in journalism since 1993, running news outlets across Massachusetts. He now serves as the Executive Editor of the Eagle.

Acosta began working at CNN in March 2007, covering three presidential elections before arriving at the Trump White House. His book on the experience, entitled "The Enemy of the People," was published in June 2019. For the recent paperback release, he penned a new afterword covering the Trump impeachment.

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In his years in the Trump press room, Acosta faced hostile treatment culminating in the revocation of his press pass. He said that the conflict illustrated "what Donald Trump and his team thought about the First Amendment," believing that they could pick and choose which reporters they wanted around. He said it eventually created a level of camaraderie with the rest of the press room.

"We're now after the truth more so than we have been perhaps ever," he said. "We sort of have a better sense of what the game is, that it's a little bit of divide and conquer."

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Moran and Acosta agreed that due to the pandemic, the press and its credibility have never been more crucial. Moran asked whether the public could unlearn its distrust of the media, and whether the coronavirus pandemic could affect that. Acosta said that the pandemic has exposed many of Trump's consistent shortcomings from earlier moments in his presidency

"The Ukraine scandal, to me, really crystalized his worldview, and his worldview is quid pro quo," Acosta said.

"The point I wanted to make at the very end of the book is that unlike the President, we are not a quid pro quo country," he said. "That's not what's going to get us through a global pandemic."

The journalists discussed what might come next for Donald Trump, including rumors that the President may decide on a different running mate this fall. Acosta said that the move would be "desperate" and display his uncertainty about the election.

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Acosta expressed doubt that Trump would refuse to leave the White House if not reelected but said he was concerned about the agenda Trump might push during his lame-duck period. Acosta predicted a possible "Howard Baker" moment where Congress would need to rise up in opposition to the President.

Acosta, Moran and Sharkey then addressed questions from the pool of over 90 submitted from viewers. Topics included the use of masks during the pandemic, Trump's loyal voter base and the "demonization" of immigrants in this country. Acosta said that history will force Trump to reckon with his prejudice and lies.

Acosta's final message was optimistic. He said he has hope for future generations of journalists and Americans. Regarding his own future, when asked whether he would return to the White House should Trump be reelected, his only answer was a resounding, "Stay tuned!"

The complete interview is available to stream on OLLI's Facebook page.

Christopher Parker can be reached via email at cparker@berkshireeagle.com or via Twitter @cparkerreports.


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