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CNN's Jim Acosta tells Stephen Colbert what it's like being Trump's go-to "fake news" target

Jim Acosta, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

Coming out to a standing ovation and wearing some snazzy red, white, and blue socks, CNN’s chief White House correspondent and journalist singled out for perhaps the most abuse from the Trump administration (although it’s a footrace), Jim Acosta sat down with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday’s Late Show. Noting that Acosta has become especially visible both for being the reporter Donald Trump and his red-faced, bird-flipping supporters love to hate, and for vocally pushing back against the administration’s demonization of the free press, Colbert asked Acosta if he’s the outlier in the press room, or if he’s just the most unwilling to shut up about, say, the president of the United States referring to journalists as “fake news,” “liars,” “scum,” and other things Donald Trump has actually and repeatedly said.

Protesting that he’s not, in fact, the only one of the White House press corps who’s pushed back against this daily assault on the press and, as Colbert put it, “objective reality,” Acosta conceded that he and his colleagues are “all fed up with the treatment we are receiving.” Playing a clip of the most recent Tampa Trump rally, where Trump fans hurled obscenities (and that one, much-memed bird flip) at Acosta in the press area, Colbert asked, “Do you lose heart?” at the way Trump’s base remains immune to the incessant, necessary fact-checking that refutes Trump’s empirically false statements. While agreeing that “nothing that he says or does seems to have an effect on the people who support him,” Acosta perhaps diplomatically maintained that “a lot of these folks are well-intentioned,” but that they are so inundated with the constant reframing of reality by conservative outlets that “they’re more focused on the coverage of the president’s behavior than the president’s behavior.”


As to his most recent turn in the spotlight when he asked for—and pointedly did not receive—an acknowledgment from Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that the American press is not, as her boss calls them, “the enemy of the people,” Acosta was less circumspect. Saying Trump’s entire political career was based on the “birther” lie, Acosta counted off other times (“Obama wire-tapped my hotel!,” “I only lost the popular vote ’cause millions of illegal immigrants voted!”), Acosta was unsparing in proclaiming the unpalatable-to-Trump-supporters fact that lies are, in fact lies. 

Himself acknowledging the criticism that his pointed, on-camera questioning of Sanders and Trump have made him the story more than once, Acosta stated that such hard questioning is, you know, what the job is. Continuing by stating, “I’m allowed to care about this country as much as anybody else,” Acosta told Colbert that, when the president is telling self-serving falsehoods (he pointed to recent, provable nonsense about U.S. Steel’s resurgence and polls saying Trump is more popular than Lincoln, to name but two), and locking kids in cages, demonizing immigrants, and “distort[ing] the sense of reality,” doing nothing would be antithetical to that whole “journalist” title. “Are we supposed to do the news and not fact-check the president when he’s obviously just telling whoppers one after another?,” was Acosta’s seemingly reasonable question that Trump’s supporters are destined not to hear, although Acosta did tell Colbert that, once he left the press area and engaged some of the invective-flinging MAGA minions in that rally crowd, he was able to talk some of them down a bit. Although not that bird-flipping lady. “I don’t know her,” deadpanned Acosta, continuing, “I don’t know why she did that.”

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.