It happened again: During a recent news conference, Donald Trump attacked a journalist who was trying to ask a question. In a matter of days, Trump will become the nation’s 45th president. But he still doesn’t seem to understand that we journalists don’t answer to him.
During the news conference in New York, Jim Acosta, a correspondent from CNN, tried to ask Trump a question about the controversial intelligence report that Trump received, apparently outlining Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential campaign. The president-elect didn’t like how the media had covered the issue, particularly at CNN, so he wouldn’t even allow Acosta to voice his question.
“Not you,” Trump told Acosta. “Your organization is terrible.”
Acosta insisted: “You are attacking our news organization — can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?”
Trump wouldn’t budge. “Don’t be rude … I’m not going to give you a question,” he told Acosta. “You are fake news.”
Suddenly there was applause from Trump’s employees and advisers who were at the news conference to support their boss. Trump’s entourage reminded me of Hugo Chávez. The late Venezuelan dictator also used to drag a group of underlings to media appearances so they could laugh at his jokes, cheer his answers and jeer when reporters posed tough questions. (Many of Trump’s traits remind me of Chávez.)
After Trump denied Acosta, a threat arrived. Acosta said that Sean Spicer, who is soon to be Trump’s White House press secretary, warned him “that if I were to do that again, I was going to be thrown out of this press conference.”
CNN, the network that gave Trump so much screen time during the campaign, now seems to be the president-elect’s newest media enemy. No matter. Acosta did the right thing, and I totally support him. Asking questions is what reporters are supposed to do, even if they don’t get an answer.
As I’ve written before, something similar happened to me in August 2015, a couple of months after Trump characterized Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, and announced his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border. I had many questions for Trump, so I asked him for an interview. He responded by putting my phone number on the internet.
So I showed up at a news conference that Trump was holding in Dubuque, Iowa. I raised my hand, stood up and started to ask my question. Trump didn’t like that. He ordered me to shut up and sit down. “Go back to Univision,” he said, then sent a bodyguard to escort me out of the room. (After that, I agreed to return if I could, in fact, ask a question.)
Perhaps Trump has issues with Latino reporters. I was thrown out of a news conference; Acosta was forbidden to ask questions and then put on warning; and during the campaign, Trump also insulted ABC News’ Tom Llamas, calling him a “sleaze” for his reporting on Trump’s charitable donations.
Nowadays it has become a badge of honor to be publicly criticized by the president-elect. He has very thin skin, and raising his ire often demonstrates that reporters are getting closer to the truth.
Trump doesn’t seem to get that when it comes to journalists, he’s not in charge. At Univision, I’m lucky to have a couple of wonderful bosses who give me absolute freedom to do my job. I’ve worked at Univision for more than 30 years, and the company has never told me what to say.
Of course, my real bosses are all the people who watch and read my work. Being independent and telling them the truth is my biggest responsibility. I answer to you — not to Trump.
Trump is not my boss.
The president-elect is mistaken in thinking that he can censor or threaten journalists like some Latin American strongman. Reporters here have the freedom and the constitutional right to ask any question they want. Trump needs to learn that when you’re in the Oval Office, nothing is off the table.
If he continues to duck controversial topics, my advice to reporters is this: Keep asking questions, just like Tom Llamas and Jim Acosta did. Don’t be deterred. Worst-case scenario: Trump will insult you or have you thrown out of the room.
No matter. You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that you’re doing your job right.