Donald Trump v Jim Acosta: What it was like in the room during tense White House stand-off
The last freewheeling, solo press conference like this one was given by Donald Trump in February 2017.
At about an hour’s notice he announced it and media around the city scurried to the White House, to the very same East Room where he jovially took questions for about an hour and a half.
This one had some similarities, announced at short notice, flushing out bleary eyed journalists who had been up all night filing on the election results.
But the tone was very different.
Donald Trump was keen to sell the midterms results as a success for his administration, but he wasn’t happy about being pressed on just which buttons he had pushed to get there.
At one point he accused American-born journalist Yamiche Alcindor, who is of Haitian descent, of being racist, when she asked him whether his claim to be a ‘nationalist’ is encouraging white supremacy in America.
African-American reporter April Ryan was told to sit down and stop interrupting when she tried to put a question about voter suppression in the South over a reporter who was already holding the microphone.
But Donald Trump’s deepest fury was reserved for his regular foe — CNN’s Jim Acosta — who frequently takes it up to the President and bears the brunt of much of the crowd’s “Fake News” angst at his rallies.
Donald Trump points at Jim Acosta as a female aide tries to intervene. (Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)
Acosta pressed him on his anti-immigration dog-whistling during the campaign, and specifically why he had referred to the so-called “caravan” of migrants moving through Mexico from Central America as an “invasion”, asking the President whether he had “demonised migrants”.
Coming from a foreign media organisation, I was seated in the cheap seats, perhaps three rows behind Acosta, maybe three metres away.
Zoe Daniel twitter: “President @realDonaldTrump enters post mid terms press conference”
There was palpable tension in the room as the President repeatedly ordered the journalist to sit down and to hand over the microphone. Acosta refused to give ground. Mr Trump tried to move on. The reporter shouted questions again and again. Again the President told him, enough. Someone to the right of me, maybe press secretary Sarah Sanders who was sitting across the aisle, called out to the reporter “just put down the mic”.
For a moment it felt like control might be lost. Time paused. Would the Secret Service step in? Would the reporter be removed? That would have been a big escalation at a time when the President regularly accuses the “Fake News” media of being the “enemy of the people”.
It was an extraordinary stand off between the President and the press, even by 2018 standards. At one point the President walked away from the podium, as if to calm himself.
In other circumstances someone might have been punched in the nose, but not in the East Room of the White House. The reporter passed the mic and the President moved on.
A spectacle to be sure, on yet another strange day in Washington.