The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America by Jim Acosta

The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in AmericaThe Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America by Jim Acosta

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book could be titled American Horror Story, subtitled with an update to the 2004 Daily Mirror headline: How Can 62,984,828 People Be So Dumb? But Mr. Acosta calls it like the journalist he is: the hate-filled, physically threatening, dangerous to the remaining shreds of a faux democracy spew from the mind-boggling swamp we have descended into since that amended headline. From the ichor of the campaign trail and the surreal hate mongering rallies to the peat bog of covering the White House and having to deal with the ilk of Spicer and Sanders, and the childish tantrums of their boss, enduring public attacks and death threats, Acosta has seen much, reported on much, seen such blatant lies, called out such blatant lies, and been the target of petulance unheard of from an office that has changed the face of public interaction forever…and in case my description leaves any ambiguity, not in a good way. Acosta’s detractors and enemies will cry much fault here, and he does lapse his professionalism a bit – admitting so when he does – because the high road is so far out of the intellectual range of the wrong wingers as to be invisible and silent, so he descends closer to their level to throw a few punches back at the mindless bullies.

Okay. That’ll draw some comments. This book covers a period from the time of a candidacy announcement through a successful restoration of WH credentials that had been childishly revoked under contrived accusations (somebody doesn’t like to be confronted, and really doesn’t like to be confronted by someone smarter). Acosta “dangerously” calls out the truth:

Beyond the slash-and-burn tactics employed by his campaign against his rivals, [T] has often twisted the truth, lied, and attacked those who would call out his falsehoods— most notably the national press corps. The Washington Post fact-checkers have catalogued nearly ten thousand false or misleading statements in the first two years of his presidency.

He paid a price and still does.I have seen my life turned upside down covering Trump. His attacks on me and my colleagues, dedicated and talented journalists, have real-life consequences. My family and friends worry about my safety. I hope at the end of the day the sacrifice will be worth it. No. I know it will be.Acosta was not new to the WH beat. And he, like many of us, saw a problem looming.

As a reporter who’d covered previous administrations as well as much of [T]’s campaign, I suspected the office would not transform the man. [T] struck me as potentially unprepared for the White House.

“potentially”?? say rather, “wholly”. Acosta drew a line early

But there was a more pressing emergency that day [January 11, 2017]: [T]’s disregard for the truth. The incoming president was questioning the validity of a perfectly legitimate news story. […] One thing I tried to make clear at that news conference is that the truth is worth defending.

And his credentials (the real ones, not the paper ones issued and revoked) gives him access to some placed anonymous sources…

As a very senior White House official would later tell me, this was all by design. “He rules by instability. He wins by making everything around him unstable,” the official told me. That way, the official said, [T] controls the chaos.

Acosta discusses the immigration imperative (“It appeared he’d come to the White House to weaponize his biases, and the travel ban was his first order of business “) that he rightly ties directly to a tragically/comically deranged evil in the form of Stephen Miller (“Miller wasn’t drinking the immigration Kool-Aid. He was making it.”) and the beginnings of the concentrated attacks on the press, quoting transcripts (and honestly admitting when the transcript did not reflect his recall because microphones were turned off or pulled away) like when T answers another reporter “… the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”

The leaks are real, but the news is fake. Did you get that? Let that wash over you for a second. It’s a bit of a mind-bender. This was when, listening to [T], I would feel my eyes glaze over. My thought at that moment was, What the hell is he talking about?

Curiously, neither T nor his sheep ever seem to have registered that crying “leak” admits guilt. (Yes, someone can leak fake information, but seriously, look at the many, many contexts where the leaks were not of fake information.) When T says to Acosta for all to hear “Well, that’s— well, you know, we do have other people. You do have other people and your ratings aren’t as good as some of the other people that are waiting.”, does he hear himself? Another anonymous official:

“[T]watches you guys nonstop,” the official said of the president’s secret preference for watching CNN. “He watches Fox to make himself feel better,” he added.

Head shake. Just wow. In the Spicer “era”, Acosta tells a sad truth:

Part of the problem we have run up against as reporters in the age of [T] is that we have to serve as fact-checkers in real time. Because [T] sometimes begins the day with untrue or unfounded claims on Twitter, journalists must spend much of their time setting the record straight.

There’s that chaos. And it sadly works…the sheep swallow the manure with shallow minds blank…the rest of us can’t sift fast enough. Spicer, Acosta observes, was sorely unqualified, and would scream inanities, even calling Acosta at home

There I was, standing next to my young son, who had come into the room, listening to Sean screaming at the top of his lungs, “You’re a f***ing weasel!” When I hung up, I looked down at my son. With a look of astonishment on his face, he asked, “Who was that?”“Son,” I said, “that was the White House.”

Acosta doesn’t, nor should he, censor the interchange. His replacement…though not a screamer, was worse (or better at lying.) On one of the quite rare occasions where Stephen Miller was at the press briefing, Miller’s stealth leaked:

One interesting moment in our exchange came when Miller, after being challenged on these points, lobbed what appeared to be a fresh line of attack. According to him, I was revealing my “cosmopolitan bias.” What in the world is a “cosmopolitan bias,” you ask? It is as bizarre to me now as it was then, but it is not an unfamiliar term. As it turns out, the term cosmopolitan was used by Joseph Stalin to purge anti-Soviet critics in the USSR.

Surprised? Acosta said Miller was too smart to be drawn in by obvious questions (“Isn’t this a racist policy?”), so he had to throw him off with the unexpected – the poem from the base of the Statue of Liberty – to maybe get a candid remark. Acosta says

For the record, I would debate Miller anytime anywhere on the subject of immigration— not because I have a passion for flooding America with immigrants from south of the border, as the xenophobes would have you believe. (Miller accused me at that briefing of being in favor of “open borders,” a tactic used by anti-immigration zealots.

Immodest? Why not?
The chapter on Charlottesville is a dark one in our history, and a revealing one of the true T. “It is still stunning to read the president’s remarks from that day. As of this writing , remarkably, they remain on the official White House website. ” Of the Helsinki embarrassment:

“Every time he [Putin] sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that, when he tells me that, he means it,” [T] said to reporters on Air Force One. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

Jaw drop. Who the eff cares if Putin is insulted??? Putin maybe, his people on his behalf, … and T (oh…yeah…) This book was published before the latest flipflop love affair with Kim Jong Un…T was bragging to the Puerto Rico governor about being able to use his nuclear football on Kim, and now he’s besties? When T was crowing over the body slamming of a journalist by a future congress, um, man, Acosta says

It was a perfect example of why my concerns are not just about the president’s behavior. They’re about his effect on the rest of the country.

And that effect was intensely personal, after his revoked credentials were forced to be restored:

There I was, standing in the street tossing a football with my son (as we often do), and about fifty feet away from us stood a man with a gun on his belt: a security guard assigned to my family and me in response to the death threats that had been pouring in as part of the backlash to the judge’s ruling in CNN’s favor.

Damn. Acosta closes with something I hold dear and repeat out loud, almost as a mantra:

There must be a common understanding that words matter. They have meaning. Words have power. I believe the term “the enemy of the people” will come to help define this era, when one group of people was pitted against another in ways that I had not seen in my lifetime.

This. Really this. And finally:

Some of us, not I, have sacrificed everything for this profession, from war zones to, unfortunately, newsrooms. Journalists have done this out of a deep devotion to the people. It is a devotion born out of a love for all people. That is a truth worth defending, as journalists are people too.

Yes. They are.

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