Jim Acosta’s bias makes him great for CNN primetime, not chief White House reporter

Jim Acosta’s bias makes him great for CNN primetime, not chief White House reporter
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Jim Acosta is passionate. 

He cares deeply about social justice issues and particularly immigration.  

He isn't afraid of debate and seems to revel in mixing it up and sharing the blow-by-blow afterward. 

Ascetically pleasing. 

He has the pipes.

Measured in the way he speaks. 

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Lots of experience in the D.C. political media world, having covered the Obama and currently the Trump administrations as a White House correspondent. His career spans all the way back to WMAL radio in Washington during the early Clinton years. 

 

Since Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE was elected, the 46-year-old James Madison graduate has been a source of intense controversy. The criticism has been consistent and goes something like this: Acosta attempts to make himself the story on an almost-daily basis by openly taking a position on a particular issue and debating the White House press secretary, administration official or the president himself, who once referred to CNN and Acosta as "fake news" during an infamous exchange on Jan. 11, 2017, while Trump was president-elect. 

The daily press briefing debates between Acosta and Sean SpicerSean Michael SpicerOvernight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Trump taps Sean Spicer to join Naval Academy board of visitors Trump falsely claims his events have never 'had an empty seat' MORE, and then Spicer’s replacement, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, doesn't happen in a bubble or relegated to YouTube since all the cable news networks carry the briefings because the ratings are great (even beating soap operas like "General Hospital” on the broadcast networks). It's a show where important information takes a backseat to showmanship for some — certainly not all — reporters in the room. 

Acosta reached peak-Acosta in August after quoting a poem etched into the Statue of Liberty when questioning Trump adviser Stephen Miller during the daily briefing. 

Upon finishing said poem, he said this to Miller, which really was more of a declaration than a question, “What the president’s proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration.”  

Miller and Acosta went back and forth in a heated exchange that lasted nearly seven minutes. 

 

During this time, the correspondent broached his father's own experience in coming to the U.S. from Cuba before asking Miller, "are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?" 

Jim, have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia?” Miller retorted before charging the reporter with having a “cosmopolitan bias.”

Each side, so to speak, declared victory. 

Miller's standing, in the eyes of the president and his supporters, was only elevated after taking on the anti-Trump face of CNN Washington.  

Staunchly anti-Trump late-night hosts such as Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, in turn, rushed to Acosta's defense. 

As a result, his Twitter following and profile in general spiked significantly. The clip dominated cable news that night into the following day. 

If the goal was to make the reporter the story, mission accomplished. 

On Tuesday, Acosta was rewarded by CNN by being promoted to chief White House correspondent

"CNN should give him a raise and a week off. That's how good he's been," former CBS anchor Dan Rather said last year of Acosta's performance in press briefings. 

But it's the wrong promotion.  

Let's add up what he brings to the table again: Passionate about social issues, fearless debater, clearly not a fan of the president, well-spoken, paid his dues, knows the D.C. beast like the back of his hand. 

That sounds like a CNN opinion host more than anything. And the network needs to shake things up at night on a permanent basis. 

CNN's struggles in primetime aren't a secret to those paying attention. In a year like 2017 that was as chaotic, controversial, unpredictable, polarizing and filled with political theater that never took a day off, CNN finished third during primetime — the most important time of the schedule for any network.  

Fox News finished first followed by MSNBC. Fox News, it should be noted, remained No. 1 despite major changes to its lineup that included the losses of Bill O'Reilly, who was ousted amid sexual harassment allegations, and Megyn Kelly, who jumped to NBC.

CNN's finish is necessarily a knock on Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, who host two hours each. One hour per host is the standard and always has been. Holding an audience over that period of time is a challenge for anyone in this business.  

Why not add Acosta into the mix? He is clearly an opinionated guy and not a just-the-facts reporter. 

Pair him with Van Jones and watch the fireworks from there if the show can book the right guests from the right to challenge their worldviews. 

He's got the goods. And for him personally, he would likely feel emancipated to truly unleash the perspectives he holds on Trump and the culture war this country is engaged in.  

Jim Acosta is CNN's new chief White House correspondent. 

Good for him. 

But for all involved — the network, Acosta, viewers — a promotion to the editorial side would have been the better move.

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.