When freedom gets corrupted

   By Ravi Shanker Kapoor ,  09-Dec-2018
When freedom gets corrupted

CNN’s Jim Acosta behaved disgracefully and by supporting him, Trump-haters have not covered themselves in glory

Love, they say, is blind. But so is hatred, at least the liberal establishment’s hatred for US President Donald Trump. The American liberals’ reaction—indeed that of the mainstream media of the world—to his heated argument with CNN’s Jim Acosta underlines this fact.

The altercation at the president’s press conference on November 7 followed Trump’s ad on illegal immigration and a caravan of migrants. Actually, Acosta was not acting as a journalist but as a political opponent; he was not asking questions but haranguing the President how his (the President’s) statement about illegal migrants was wrong. To Acosta’s query whether he “demonizes” them, Trump said, “No, no, no. I want them to come to the country but to come legally… through a process.”

Now what’s wrong in this? Should the president or prime minister of any country be castigated for insisting that any migrants coming to his country do so legally? And America is not just another country; it’s a rich country where millions of poor and not-so-poor people want to migrate to. A few days before the altercation with Acosta, Trump had said, “Asylum is not a programme for those living in poverty. There are billions of people in the world living at the poverty level. The United States cannot possibly absorb them all.” 

Perfectly valid points. We would like Prime Minister Narendra Modi to say that as well (but intellectuals dislike him when his government doesn’t welcome Rahingyas with open arms, but that’s another story). 

Trump’s arguments are routinely trashed by liberals; they keep lecturing him to let illegal aliens enter America. This is what Acosta was doing at the President’s press conference on November 7. Trump curtly told Acosta, “Honestly, I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN, and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”

But Acosta brazenly wanted to dominate the entire presser. When a White House aide, a lady to boot, tried to take away the microphone from and pass it on to the next reporter, he almost assaulted her; it has been captured on tape. And yet, neither Acosta nor CNN nor liberals feel ashamed. 

While I champion the cause of free speech, as evident from my latest book, There Is No Such Thing As Hate Speech. A Case For Absolute Freedom Of Expression (Bloomsbury, 2017), I am not unaware of the fact that the concept of liberty, as it has evolved over the centuries, is a universal concept; it is for everybody, not for a group. Which means that one person’s right can’t be privileged over another’s. While my right to free speech is absolute, so is that of other people. As a journalist, I want to ask a question, but so do other journalists. Ditto with the right to action. My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. 

When the President of the United States, or an Indian Minister, calls a press conference, the idea is to interact with the press, not to give an interview to a particular journalist. It is the prerogative of the person calling the press conference which questions to answer and which ones to avoid. His answers may be incomplete; he may be evading the real issue, which is very often; the media can comment on this, which it does. But to appropriate more time than one is allotted to is gross misconduct. And to assault an official taking the reporter’s microphone is downright deplorable, indeed unpardonable. 

No wonder, the Trump Administration tried to block Acosta’s entry to the White House.

The Trump-Acosta spat is seen by many people in our country as the robustness of the American media, and rightly so. They also see this in contradistinction with the timidity of the Indian media, and that’s again right. Over the years, our media has been tamed, bought, and compromised. Journalists and press barons are guilty, so also are political parties of all hues, from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Congress and small parties.

Evidently, the US media has not been subject to the pressures that its Indian counterpart is. It should cherish its freedom, but at the same time it should not allow people like Acosta to debauch it and to use it as licence to further their own agendas. For the cost of freedom is not just eternal vigilance but also prudence. By supporting Acosta, Trump-haters have not covered themselves in glory.