CNN’s Acosta stopped being a journalist long ago

As I winced my way through an uncomfortable confrontation at a televised White House news conference between President Trump and Jim Acosta, which resulted in CNN’s chief White House correspondent having his press credentials yanked, all I could think about was a 3×5-inch slip of scratch paper.

About 15 years ago, while I was an editorial writer and columnist for the Dallas Morning News, I was on the phone with the county district attorney when the conversation got heated. I’d been pounding on the D.A. for months over scandals involving his office. It had even gotten back to me — through sources — that the top prosecutor considered me his “nemesis.”

On the call, the D.A. tried to rattle me by taking a personal shot. I was all set to fire back with a snarky comment of my own that was loaded and in the chamber. My boss — the editorial page editor — must have sensed what was coming. So, she hurried over to my desk and slid me a short note.

It read: “Be professional.”

I was. I took a deep breath, ignored the insult, and pressed ahead with the interview. It made for a good column.

My boss didn’t want me to get in the mud with an elected official who was at home there. Even if he considered me his nemesis, I wasn’t supposed to view him the same way. My boss also wanted to remind me that I was on the job, and I had a duty not to hurt the newspaper’s reputation.

It wasn’t the first time someone tried to get my goat, nor the last. Once, the campaign manager for a Democratic candidate for Texas governor got angry that I had special access to another Democrat — and fellow Mexican American — vying for the same job. The campaign manager thought I was showing favoritism to the Latino — which, by the way, as an opinion writer, was my prerogative. Yet, clearly intoxicated by white privilege, he threatened to drive to Dallas to have a talk with my publisher in the hopes of getting me fired.

What could I do? I offered to pay for his gas.

I’ve never forgiven my old boss for slipping me that note. But now, I understand why she did it.

Since then, I’ve had a few run-ins with public officials — a George W. Bush Cabinet member, a Democratic congresswoman, etc. — where, during questioning about immigration, folks complained that I was being overly combative or argumentative.

Upon reflection, maybe I was. That’s the job. Yet, in each case, I have to ask myself: Was I trying to get information, or just showing off? If the interaction was more about me than it was about them, then that’s a problem.

Invariably, Acosta makes his interactions with Trump all about himself.

The fact that the CNN reporter had his press credentials pulled — even if only temporarily — will surely feed the legend and perhaps add a couple of zeros to his speaking fee or a future book deal.

Still, Acosta deserved the rebuke. He was arrogant, rude and sanctimonious. He was sent to cover the story, and he made himself the story. He was supposed to ask questions, but instead he tried to “challenge” the president about the refugee caravan. He asked several questions, instead of one. And when he got answers, he rejected them. He used up time that could have gone to his colleagues. He hogged the microphone, and — at his worst moment — wrestled for control of it with a White House intern, as if it were his own private property.

Someone at CNN needs to slip this guy a note. He stopped being a journalist a while back, and his recent performance — and that’s the right word — at the White House demonstrates it.

In the end, I don’t care much about how Acosta treated Trump. He has a job to do, and it involves questioning the powerful.

I care more about how he treated his media colleagues, which is to say like he was the only reporter in the room — or, for that matter, on Planet Earth. Their deadlines and live shots were just as important as his.

And I care most about how he treated that poor intern who learned the hard way that the most dangerous place to be in Washington is between Jim Acosta and a microphone.