Decades ago, after Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn took up residence in the United States, he noted that some of the same journalists he now observed behaving so rudely toward government officials in American had acted like pussycats when they were assigned to the Soviet Union. His comment, though very likely true, may have been a bit harsh.
The fact that a journalist isn’t prepared to risk his freedom in a foreign country shouldn’t estop him from being tough on officials in their own free country. On the other hand, a journalist who is hyper-aggressive with officials at home shouldn’t grovel before foreign ones. Stay out of jail, yes. Suck up, no. Defer, not unless the alternatives are too dangerous.
Solzhenitsyn’s comment came to mind when I read this piece about Jim Acosta by Humberto Fontova. He writes:
If CNN’s Jim Acosta spoke to the mass-murdering Stalinist dictator Raul Castro with half the insolence he sputters at White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who could blame him?
After all, Jim Acosta’s father fled Stalinist Cuba as an 11 year- old, while Raul Castro destroyed his homeland and shattered his family, same as the Castros — through mass-executions, mass-jailings, mass larceny and exile–shattered practically every family in Cuba.
But no. While addressing the mass-murdering Cuban dictator Jim Acosta’s nervous brownnosing outdid both Eddie Haskell upon his every greeting of June Cleaver and The Scarecrow’s upon meeting the Wizard of Oz.
Here is the exchange between Acosta and Castro to which Fontova refers:
Jim Acosta: Gracias, President Castro. Thank you, President Castro, for your hospitality here in Havana. I wanted to know, please sir, if you have Cuban political prisoners and why you don’t release them.
Raul Castro: Well, give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately. Just mention the list. What political prisoners? Give me a name or names or when — after this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners, and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.
If he had received this answer from Sarah Sanders or President Trump, Acosta would have insisted on following up, yelling out his questions if necessary — e.g., “Are you seriously denying that your government holds political prisoner?” Instead, according to Fontova, Acosta murmured another “thank you” and sat down.
Did Acosta follow up on Castro’s offer to receive a list of political prisoners and release them? Not as far as I can tell, though such lists are readily available. (If I learn that Acosta provided a list, I will gladly correct this portion of the post).
Would Acosta have risked anything had he pressed Raul Castro? I suppose so. In the context of a session with President Obama and the warming of U.S.-Cuban relations, Acosta wouldn’t have been whisked off to prison. However, the Cuban government could have retaliated in other ways against Acosta and/or his network. It could have taken his journalist visa or even closed CNN’s Havana operation (though, again, this seems unlikely because it would have blown the thaw in relations the Cubans wanted).
A courageous journalist would have taken these risks, which also carried risks for Cuba, rather than being shamelessly lied to. But Acosta’s courage and journalistic integrity, on full display at the White House Easter Egg Roll, doesn’t apply to real tyrants.
Thus, I think the title of Fontova’s article is fair: “Jim Acosta: Roaring Lion to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Purring Kitty to Raul Castro.”