“Once the government creates the kind of forum that it has created, like the White House briefing room, it can’t selectively include or exclude people on the basis of ideology or viewpoint,” said Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
The new steps enunciated in the Sherrill decision to ensure that reporters’ First Amendment rights are not violated include the requirement to give the reporter notice and the right to rebut a formal written decision, which must accompany any revocation. “We further conclude that notice, opportunity to rebut, and a written decision are required because the denial of a pass potentially infringes upon First Amendment guarantees,” the court’s ruling states. “Such impairment of this interest cannot be permitted to occur in the absence of adequate procedural due process.”
“If the Secret Service makes this kind of determination that they’re going to no longer let someone have access, or limit access from the start, there should be a really good reason for that,” Michele Kimball, a media-law professor at George Washington University, said. “And if you are denied that access, there should be some sort of procedural due process for you, [so] that you can find out what happened. And it’s sort of that check to make sure that, again, it’s being handled evenhandedly.”
CNN declined to comment on Acosta’s situation. The network did not respond to questions about whether Acosta planned to sue or whether he is taking the steps put forth in Sherrill that allow him to object, rebut the decision, and seek written explanation from the Secret Service.
“What they’ve done here is not only unwise, but probably illegal,” the ACLU’s Wizner concluded.
In 1990, The Los Angeles Times profiled The Nation in its 125th year.
Sherrill had continued to cover the White House in the Carter and Reagan administrations, and he kept up his role writing about major corporations.
“Sherrill is the ultimate outsider, journalistically speaking, which makes him the quintessential Nation writer,” the Times wrote.
He clearly relished that role as an outsider, because when he won his 11-year battle with the White House to get credentialed, he opted against it.
“The fun thing about this was that when I was finally going to get a press pass, I never applied,” Sherrill told the Times. “I didn’t want to be in the White House. I had been in Washington long enough to realize that was the last place to waste your time sitting around for some dumb [expletive] to give a press conference.”
When all was said and done, Sherrill knew his best work would be done far away from the place he was never allowed to visit.
On Thursday night, Acosta’s name was part of a triple-byline story on CNN.com. “Trump considering [Chris] Christie, [Pam] Bondi, [Alexander] Acosta for attorney general,” he reported alongside Jeremy Diamond and Sarah Westwood.
“When they go low, we keep doing our jobs,” Acosta said on air Wednesday afternoon.
Acosta, like Sherrill, had shown that the White House could revoke his credentials, but it couldn’t stop him from doing his job.