CNN's Acosta set for interview with The Eagle

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In the year since CNN's chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta published his memoir, the United States has seen an impeachment trial, a global health crisis and a nationwide movement toward police reform. Naturally, he now has more to add.

Acosta, who came to the Berkshires last year for a lecture in Great Barrington, is making a virtual return to the area on July 9 for an interview with Kevin Moran, executive editor of the Berkshire Eagle. Berkshire Community College's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is hosting the lecture, titled "The Enemy of the People: One Year, One Impeachment, and One Pandemic Later," for free. Anyone may attend as long as they RSVP at berkshireolli.org.

Lisa Sharkey, senior vice president for publishing company HarperCollins, brought Acosta to the Berkshires last year for the Mona Sherman Memorial lecture, which honors her mother. Other past speakers have included Cokie Roberts and most recently David Frum. Acosta's 2019 lecture drew a full house to Mahaiwe Theater. according to OLLI Executive Director Megan Whilden.

Soon after, he published his book, "The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America," in June. It covers his experience working on the Trump campaign and in the Trump White House, including the period when his credentials were revoked and eventually restored.

This year's July 9 event, which will start at 7 p.m., comes after the paperback release of Acosta's book, which includes an afterword about the impeachment proceedings.

Acosta said that he struggled to "put the pen down" on the book, even after finishing this most recent addition. The news world has changed, he said, since the outbreak of COVID-19.

"A lot of us had to get up to speed very quickly on matters of public health, on infectious diseases and things like the coronavirus," he said. "I've covered these types of stories in the past, I had good contacts in the public health community, so I was able to tap into those contacts to do my reporting over the last few months."

Since the pandemic hit the United States, Acosta said that parts of the country have decided "to reject facts, reject science, reject the expertise of public health experts. I think a lot of people around the country were simply following the lead that was being set back in Washington."

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However, he added that the pandemic has displayed the need for credible news.

"I do think, to some extent, that the public is quickly coming to the realization that they're going to need some reliable sources of information if they're going to be able to get through this. And I think that is where the press comes in," he said.

For OLLI, the pandemic has shifted their capabilities for hosting events. Whilden said that their members, almost all older than 50, must take special precautions and may not return to in-person events for the foreseeable future. However, the logistics of virtual events make them far easier to host.

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"You can have a speaker from really anywhere in the world. They don't need to travel here. You don't have to make airplane arrangements or hotel arrangements or anything," Whilden said. She added that almost 900 guests attended the David Frum conversation, while the Mahaiwe seats only 600.

Looking to the future, Acosta expressed cautious optimism. Local media outlets have struggled financially on a national scale in recent years, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that problem. Acosta believes that reporting during the pandemic may be shifting the country's attitude about local journalism.

"Our business is up against some huge challenges," he said. "What's happening to small- and medium-sized newspapers around the country is just awful. I will say that one of the things that we've seen through this pandemic is a real focus on getting good reliable sources of information.

"People want facts, people want information they want to be able to trust what they're hearing, and that's where we are. So I do think it's a huge opportunity for people in the press to do good work."

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Acosta himself began his career in local television, what he called the "traditional local news route to my jobs in network and cable." These jobs taught him to build trusting relationships with sources, a skill that continues to serve him on CNN.

"The president and some politicians want us to reveal our sources, or accuse us of having fake sources. We in the press know that our sources are invaluable," Acosta said. "I wouldn't be able to do what I do these days without confidential administration sources."

Acosta's frequent clashes with President Trump led to a revocation of his press pass and a lawsuit, CNN vs. Trump, over the President's power to do so. The book ends with Acosta's victory in that suit and return to the White House press room. His new afterword picks up in fall of 2019, months after the book's publication, with the beginning of the impeachment trial.

Words of hope for future reconciliation in America closed out the first edition of Acosta's book from June 2019. A year later, his message is still one of unity, even through pandemic and recent calls for radical change regarding policing and issues of race. He said that the country is "at its best, at its strongest when we are united."

"I do think at the end of the day, when we get through this pandemic, we're going to have to come to the realization that the only way to get through this is to tackle this as one country," he said.

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

This story has been modified to correct Lisa Sharkey's title and the name of  the publishing company she works for.


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