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Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

On second thought…

The White House on Monday abandoned its plan to suspend CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass for a second time after the expiration of a federal judge’s 14-day restraining order, instead warning Acosta to abide by a series of new rules for members of the media.

In a letter to Acosta reported by CNN, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine wrote:

“Having received a formal reply from your counsel to our letter of November 16, we have made a final determination in this process: your hard pass is restored. Should you refuse to follow these rules in the future, we will take action in accordance with the rules set forth above. The President is aware of this decision and concurs.”

TPM has reached out to the White House for a copy of the letter it sent CNN Monday.

The White House has said it will put in place new rules for journalists at press briefings; CNN on Monday reported one of them contained in the letter to Acosta: Each journalist shall ask “a single question” at a time, unless allowed follow-ups “at the discretion of the President or other White House officials.” (Read Sanders’ new rules in full below.)

In response to the White House threat Friday that it would re-suspend Acosta’s press pass — Sanders and Shine called it a “preliminary decision” in a letter Friday night and demanded Acosta respond by 5 p.m. on Sunday — CNN’s lawyers on Sunday contested the decision and asked the court to hear their argument for a preliminary injunction.

“Put simply, the White House’s illegal reaction after the November 7 press conference cannot be made legal now by applying an after-the-fact concocted process,” they wrote to the White House.

The White House said Friday that, should Acosta contest the “preliminary decision,” it would make a “final determination” by Monday at 3 p.m. Shortly after that time, CNN announced that the White House had dropped the matter.

Via the White House press pool, Sanders laid out the new rules in a statement:

This afternoon we have notified Jim Acosta and CNN that his hard pass has been restored. We have also notified him of certain rules that will govern White House press conferences going forward. They are listed here:

  1. A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and then will yield the floor to other journalists;
  2. At the discretion of the President or other White House official taking questions, a follow-up question or questions may be permitted; and where a follow up has been allowed and asked, the questioner will then yield the floor;
  3. “Yielding the floor” includes, when applicable, physically surrendering the microphone to White House staff for use by the next questioner;
  4. Failure to abide by any of rules (1)-(3) may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist’s hard pass.

We have created these rules with a degree of regret. For years, members of the White House press corps have attended countless press events with the President and other officials without engaging in the behavior Mr. Acosta displayed at the November 7, 2018 press conference. We would have greatly preferred to continue hosting White House press conferences in reliance on a set of understood professional norms, and we believe the overwhelming majority of journalists covering the White House share that preference. But, given the position taken by CNN, we now feel obligated to replace previously shared practices with explicit rules.

We are mindful that a more elaborate and comprehensive set of rules might need to be devised, including, for example, for journalist conduct in the open (non-press room) areas inside and outside the White House and for Air Force One. At this time however, we have decided not to frame such rules in the hope that professional journalistic norms will suffice to regulate conduct in those places. If unprofessional behavior occurs in those settings, or if a court should decide that explicit rules are required to regulate conduct there, we will be forced to reconsider this decision.

The White House’s interaction with the press is, and generally should be, subject to a natural give-and-take. President Trump believes strongly in the First Amendment, and a free press and is the most accessible President in modern history. It would be a great loss for all if, instead of relying on the professionalism of White House journalists, we were compelled to devise a lengthy and detailed code of conduct for White House events.

CNN notified the court later Monday that, in response to the White House restoring Acosta’s pass, the network would drop its suit:

This post has been updated.

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Departing with years of tradition, this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner will feature a historian, Ron Chernow, in place of a comedian. In years past, with a few exceptions, comedians from Stephen Colbert to Richard Pryor have performed for members of the White House Correspondents’ Association and their guests. Michelle Wolf performed most recently. “While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry,” Chernow said in a press release from the association.

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