BERLIN – Journalists should be observers of and not stakeholders in the events they cover, whether they work in a small city in Eastern Europe or in the White House. But as journalists around the world themselves have become increasingly goals, many of them have wondered at what time it is justified to put down the pen and talk – and they have come to very different conclusions.
In Germany, a group of regional reporters decided that this point had come in May when the right-wing right-wing Alternate to Germany (AFD) announced during a press conference that a reporter with the best-selling Image tabloid could not ask questions during the event. The reporter excluded from the press release, Michael Sauerbier, had asked critical questions during a previous press event about a leading AFD official's alleged ties to a right extremist group.
It was not the first time that the reporters had been ruled out by AfD, but with attacks and rhetorical sharpening, all the journalists in the room immediately agreed what they would do. They left the room; The news conference was suspended.
If any of those present at the time watched the testy exchange between President Trump and CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta on Wednesday, maybe they had had some flashbacks to that day in May.
Acosta asked if Trump had "demonized immigrants" at Wednesday's post-midterms conference, calling a caravan of Central American immigrants "an invasion". When a white house tried to take back the microphone, Acosta resisted by lifting the arm.
"Forgive me, madam," he said to the woman.
Trump's response was less subtle. "CNN should be ashamed to have you work for them. You're a rude, horrible person. You should not work for CNN. You're a very rude person," said Trump to Acosta. Trump had long been considering the possibility of removing references from journalists. "Why do we work so hard to work with the media when it's corrupt? Remove references?" He asked on Twitter in May.
And on Wednesday, the White House appeared to follow these threats for the first time, when it interrupted Acosta's press release in an unprecedented move.
In other countries where right parties open threats to democratic principles or where journalists have to fear for their lives, Acosta became well-known on Thursday morning. His fighting issue about the president made him fans of social media in India, for example, where some praised his will to take over the master.
A user created a video that contrasts Acosta's issues with image material from an event in 2015, when India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a holiday event for journalists – and they plagued him to take care of himself. Modi has not had a press conference where journalists were free to ask questions throughout their office hours.
Foreign journalists were not alone in support of Acosta. During the testimony Wednesday's news conference, the reporter Trump rushed on the next immediately to his colleague's defense. But should American correspondents go down the road for their foreign colleagues and boycott briefings?
The bar for such a measure has been relatively high abroad. In one case, foreign journalists went out of an Israeli press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull last year after the guards ordered a referral search of a European Press Office photographer. The event was later described as "unjustified and humiliating" by the country's foreign federation, and the coverage of it was ashamed of the Israeli government.
In the case of the German AFD incident, the lookout seems to have had an impact as well. Senior party officials recently held a round table discussion with leading German editors, with the stated goal of encouraging a more moderate dialogue, although the slogans "false news" have not faded from the streets.
Of course, AfD and Trump are hardly comparable. Trump has occasionally engaged in the media and elsewhere hit them. He has threatened to sue the outlet but has not followed up so far. AfD is meanwhile an opposition party with limited influence.
When former US press secretary Sean Spicer excluded several news organizations from a press release outside the camera in February, but invited conservative publications to join, only a few media decided to boycott the incident. The reasons for refusing to boycott the briefing were different: some claimed that it was more important to continue to cover the administration than to give an example. Other, more polarized news stores seemed to be favored.
On the other hand, Germany has a more moderate media landscape, in which left or right publications and networks have so far received little traction. German journalists often issue statements by joint umbrella associations when they fear the violations of press freedom, regardless of their paper's editorial positions.
As a response to the May event, such a society issued a clear directive to its members: "We ask all our members to participate in AFD events only if all journalists have the right to ask questions."
Joanna Slater in New Delhi contributed to this report. Parts of this post were first published on May 10, 2018.
More about WorldViews:
Trumps party goes far to the far right
Walking caravan: In Mexico camps, caravan families are at a crossing
Trump demonized Somali refugees in Minnesota. One of them won only one seat in the congress.