"It's a surreal experience to have the president of the United States call you 'fake news,'" notes Jim Acosta. But CNN's chief White House correspondent wouldn't trade it for anything. "I'm having a lot of fun."
Trump's pointed attacks on CNN have turned Acosta, a married father of three, into something of an evangelist for the fourth estate. During an April 12 Newseum panel discussion that also included Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier and The New York Times' Glenn Thrush, Acosta pressed Charlie Spiering, the White House correspondent for Breitbart News, on why his organization couldn't admit that President Trump was not telling the truth when he tweeted that President Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower. "Why can't the folks on the conservative side of the news media … just see the facts as they are?" asked Acosta. The exchange drew applause from the audience.
You seem to be among Trump's favorite sparring partners.
People come up to me and they say, "Oh my goodness, are you OK?" I tell them, "I'm having a lot of fun. Do not worry." I've been doing this for a long time; I've covered a lot of different politicians. I covered President Obama's second term; there were some stressful moments there. You just stand your ground and continue to try to hold him accountable. I mean that's all you can do. I don't think you can let one "fake news" remark intimidate you.
Or incessant "fake news" remarks.
Yeah, or "very fake news," as he said at that [Feb. 16] news conference. No, we're not going to be intimidated by that. Obviously that is part of the White House strategy to delegitimatize what we're doing. I come from an old-school, traditional mindset that we're doing a public service, as corny as that sounds. And we're here to hold him accountable, whether he likes it or not. He can call us fake news until the cows come home. They can kick us out of the briefing room. They can kick us out of the White House. We'll still set up our live trucks on Pennsylvania Avenue and continue to do the news.
Has Trump ever called you personally?
[Trump aides] Hope [Hicks] and Kellyanne [Conway] have called me, They'll say, "I've got the president right next to me." After the [Feb. 16] news conference where he and I went back and forth for eight minutes in the East Room, Hope Hicks called me and said, "I just talked to the president and I just want to let you know that he appreciates that you and he got along much better at this press conference than you did at the January news conference." So that was interesting. I think they realized that they have to have at least a civil relationship with the news media.
Really? Do you think so?
I think they recognize at the end of the day that they do need us as much as they think we need them. I think that there is a part of [Trump] that wants to have a good relationship with us. The issue is, can he take the heat of us asking all of these questions? I think the jury is still out on that. It was not something that I think was altogether clear during the campaign and it's certainly not clear now. He is still very sensitive to the kind of criticism that comes with being president.
Can you ever unplug?
Oh no, no, no. I live on my phone. I have my phone set [so that] each one of [Trump's] tweets appears on my lock screen so I see it immediately. And one of the reasons I do that is because what if a tweet is deleted because something was misspelled or something like that? We've had that happen a few times. I'll take a picture of it on my lock screen; a lot of other reporters do the same thing. It's one of the things that we picked up during the campaign covering Donald Trump.
How many hours a day do you work?
It's basically waking up at six in the morning and trying to put the phone down at midnight. It doesn't stop. I hear a lot of: "Dad get off the phone." But the thing that has been amazing about this experience is having people come up to me to say thank you. When I got back from [a trip a few weeks ago], there's a box sitting on the doorstep and it was from [CNN Digital producer] Alex Rosen's mom. It was a loaf of banana bread that she baked to thank me for what I'm doing. After [the Jan. 11] press conference where Trump called me "fake news," one of my neighbors put a bottle of bourbon in my mailbox. I was at dinner the other night and the manager comes over, "I want to buy the whole table a round of desserts." So even though there is all this nasty partisanship and viciousness and vulgarity on social media and it is all flying back and forth and it just seems like this massive mud fight between all sides, there are a lot of really nice, decent people who appreciate what we're doing. So it's been one of the most rewarding things of my entire career.