Journalist Jim Acosta has been CNN’s chief correspondent at the White House since January of 2018, during which he has challenged the administration on multiple issues. But it was his questions to President Donald Trump regarding immigration policy that got Acosta banned from the place — at least temporarily.

Acosta spoke to the Atlanta Press Club in Buckhead in an Aug. 10 appearance to promote his book “Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America,” a personal account of the adversity he encounters while covering the White House.

Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, speaks at an Atlanta Press Club event in Buckhead Aug. 10. (Kevin C. Madigan)

At the event, held at the Buckhead Club, he voiced strong criticisms of Trump and connected the president’s language and behavior to such recent news as an Aug. 3 mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas Walmart and Aug. 7 federal immigration raids on food plants in Mississippi.

“People think I was magically beamed down to Earth in the middle of this Trump thing to become the chief antagonist of the president, but that’s not how life works,” Acosta said while describing a long career that included stints with CBS News in Dallas, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta. He joined CNN in 2007 and reported on the 2008 presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — “that little slugfest,” he calls it — and subsequently covered the Obama administration.

“I went to Cuba with Obama and had a chance to ask Raul Castro about his human rights record,” he recalled. “My father’s a Cuban immigrant and as a Cuban-American myself that was one of the highlights of my career — to be able to ask one of the Castro brothers about the conditions on the island that drove my father and his mother to come to the United States back in the early ’60s.”

Acosta, 48, said his book is the result of “keeping a periodic diary of my travels with Donald Trump as he made this unprecedented and unimaginable rise to power.” He drew Trump’s ire last November, resulting in the revocation of his White House press credentials, which led to a lawsuit filed by CNN in which the company prevailed.

“He didn’t want me to challenge him on this notion he’s been peddling that immigrants pose some kind of threat, like an invasion coming into this country, when that’s just not the case. There is no invasion. San Diego is not about to become part of Guatemala,” Acosta said, adding, “The El Paso shooter [referred to] a Mexican invasion. Whenever you have a situation where the leader of a country is demonizing immigrants or people who are less fortunate than ourselves, bad things can happen.”

He continued: “We’re starting to see some of that manifest itself. I do think there are people on both sides of the political spectrum who have definitely been thinking hard about what happened in El Paso and how it relates to some of the out-of-control rhetoric the president has been using. We’re seeing it in real time and in living color. You’re letting the genie out of the bottle and there is such a thing as unintended consequences.”

A journalist in the audience asked Acosta how the press can responsibly cover the president without amplifying his false claims.

“He says things like members of Congress should go back to where they came from, that Baltimore is a rat-infested place,” Acosta responded. “Do we stick our head in the sand? It’s the president of the United States, so it matters. It’s news.

“I don’t want to be part of the normalizing and sanitizing that we’ve been seeing and we can’t avoid covering it,” he continued. “We present this to the public so that it resembles something along the lines of full and responsible coverage.”

Acosta said he believes the Republican Party has compromised many of its principles to make peace with itself and get on board with Donald Trump. He does, however, hear from some of its leaders privately expressing their alarm.

“They are logically concerned about what happened in El Paso and at the workplace raid in Mississippi — these kids crying on television for their mommies and their daddies — and they wonder what the hell has happened to our country.”

He added, “We have a leader now who’s playing a game of divide and conquer, and he is realizing some short-term political gains, but down the road we’re going to have to get back to a place where we are all on the same team…where we’re not at each other’s throats.”

“Regardless of where you stand on the issues, we are at a critical point in our country’s history,” Acosta said. “There are a lot of questions but I do think we are going to get answers. History tells us that [eventually] we will be able to see very clearly what’s been going on and folks will have to decide for themselves whether or not it made America great.”

–Kevin C. Madigan

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