Long before he was clashing with President Donald Trump or being parodied on SNL, CNN anchor Jim Acosta was just a kid growing up in Annandale. We sat down with the with the reporter to talk about everything from his love of journalism to questioning the biggest political leaders in world.
When did you get bitten by the journalism bug?
I think it probably dates back to a field trip that I took when I was in the second grade [at Kenwood School in Annandale], to see the hostages coming back from Iran. The Washington Post came along with my class, and a story about us appeared in the newspaper. And I remember seeing the TV cameras there and thinking that was really cool.
And you were a reporter at Annandale High School?
For the school newspaper, I did an exposé at the time about a Pink Floyd mural in the high school hallway that was mysteriously painted over. And it was a real shock to the other students in my class and, you know, sort of a scandal. I went to the principal’s office to try to get to the bottom of it and found out that it was the French teacher who was responsible. But it was replaced by a mural of the Statue of Liberty, and how can you argue with that?
What do you wish people understood better about journalists?
We’re here to represent the people. What kind of questions would my parents and friends from high school want to ask? Too often [people] think that we’re, you know, pursuing an agenda. And really, many of us, we’re just trying to get to the bottom of the same things that affect all of us. Primarily, I think we’re here to shine flashlights in dark corners. We’re here to hold the powerful accountable.
You’re known for asking tough questions of various presidents both here and abroad. Do you look forward to those opportunities, or is it nerve-racking?
I mean, I’m glad to have a chance to do it. People think my career started with Donald Trump, but I had a chance to question Raúl Castro, the president of Cuba, back in 2016, about how that country has political prisoners and about the opposition leaders and people protesting in the streets. My father’s a Cuban refugee, and that meant the world to me. Castro was so taken aback by the question that he pulled the translator headphones off of his head to see if they were functioning properly. Barack Obama gave me a look like, Uh, Jim, not sure how you’re getting out of this place, but good luck … That will always go down as the most satisfying experience for me as a reporter.
So what’s it like seeing yourself portrayed on SNL?
Well, you hear from a lot of friends that you haven’t heard from in a long time. You know, it’s a pretty surreal experience, and if you can’t laugh at yourself, there’s something wrong with you. I got a chuckle out of it. I think it was a good thing for the press in general. If they’re poking a little fun at us, we must be doing our jobs, right?
This story originally ran in our May issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.