Sanders, Acosta in intense clash over Trump, press

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday refused to say the media is not the enemy of the people in an extraordinary exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta, who has been at the center of a firestorm over President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE and the press.

Sanders during the back and forth at the White House press briefing read off a laundry list of media reports she cited as unfair or misleading, calling the president's repeated attacks on the press "completely understandable."

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“I think the president has made his position known,” Sanders said, before turning her attention to Acosta in particular. “It’s ironic, Jim, that not only you and the media attack the president for his rhetoric when they frequently lower the level of conversation in this country.” 

Sanders blamed the media for personally attacking her and cited the controversy from the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where comedian Michelle Wolf drew criticism from conservatives and some journalists for mocking Sanders’s appearance.

“You brought a comedian up to attack my appearance and called me a traitor to my own gender,” Sanders said.

“You did not say in the course of those remarks that you just made that the press is not the enemy of the people,” Acosta responded, before expressing compassion over how Sanders has been treated at times. 

“We all get put through the wringer, we all get put through the meat grinder in this town, and you’re no exception and I’m sorry that happened to you. I wish that had not happened,” Acosta said.

Acosta noted that Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpEx-Trump, progressive strategists battle over charges of anti-Semitism surrounding Eric Trump Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events Trump praises Arizona governor's pick of Jon Kyl to succeed McCain MORE earlier in the day told Axios that she does not believe the media is the "enemy of the people," as her father has repeatedly claimed. He asked if Sanders would be willing to do the same.

"For the sake of this room, the people that are in this room, this democracy, this country … the president of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the people," Acosta said. "His own daughter acknowledges that, and all I’m asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here."

Sanders responded that she shares Acosta's passion, but again refused to walk back the president's rhetoric.

"I’ve addressed this question, I’ve addressed my personal feelings. I’m here to speak on behalf of the president. He’s made his comments clear," Sanders said.

Acosta tweeted a short time later that he was so bothered by Sanders's remarks that he walked out of the briefing before it ended.

The president has had a tense relationship with the media since he hit the campaign trail in 2015. He frequently labels coverage he dislikes "fake news" and has threatened to pull press credentials, and the White House last week barred a CNN reporter from covering an open press event.

Attendees at Trump's political rallies frequently jeer the media, often at the president's urging. The behavior escalated on Tuesday when a group of rallygoers shouted down Acosta while he attempted to do a broadcast.

In the face of repeated criticism for its hostile rhetoric toward journalists, Sanders and the White House have insisted they support a free press.

Updated at 2:53 p.m.