Even before he became president, Donald Trump singled out one combative reporter for special attention.

In his first press conference held at Trump Tower as president-elect, Trump got into a heated exchange with a journalist who kept trying to ask questions.

"Not you, not you," Trump said, trying to stop the man from speaking.

That angry back-and-forth, in which Trump refused to allow Jim Acosta the opportunity to ask a question, set the tone for almost two years of hostility that reached a dramatic climax this week when the White House suspended the reporter's press pass.

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So what is it about CNN's chief White House correspondent that Trump just can't stand?

First presser sets the tone

When Trump stepped up to take questions in that first press conference as president-elect, he was not happy about stories CNN had published, including one that suggested Russia had compromising financial and personal information about him.

During the election, supporters at Trump rallies were firmly on the Republican's side, even chanting "CNN sucks" while Acosta tried to do a live shot.

So when Acosta tried to question Trump in January 2017 ahead of his inauguration, the president-elect was determined to freeze him out.

"Not you. Your organisation is terrible," Trump said.

"Since you're attacking us, can you give us a question?" Acosta asked.

"I'm not going to give you a question. You are fake news," was the president-elect's response.

Questions, questions and more questions

Trump's gripe is not just about the CNN's correspondent's reporting. In facing a President who's style is to engage in personal attacks, Acosta has not been afraid to be confrontational.

Drawing on his own experiences as the son of an immigrant, when given an opportunity to speak, Acosta often couches his questions in personal and emotional statements.

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which allowed illegal immigrants brought into the country as children to stay and work, Acosta asked how the President could leave the announcement to his attorney general.

"There's 800,000 people that will be affected, and he couldn't deliver the news himself?" the journalist said.

On August 2, Acosta got into a fiery seven-minute exchange with White House adviser Stephen Miller over the benefits of an immigration policy that favours high-skilled workers and English speakers. Acosta started his question by quoting a poem etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty and asked whether the government was rigging the system for Great Britain and Australia.

Miller reacted angrily, calling it "one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish thing you have ever said".

Earlier this year Acosta was accused of being rude because he shouted a question at Trump while he was surrounded by children during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The journalist questioned Trump about the DACA immigration plan again saying, "What about the DACA kids? Should they worry about what is going to happen to them, sir?".

Trump blamed the Democrats but Acosta persisted in his questioning, asking repeatedly: "Didn't you kill DACA?"

Earlier this year, Acosta made headlines when he asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she agreed with Trump's view of the press that they were the "enemy of the people".

"I think it would be a good thing if you were to say right here at this briefing that the press, the people who are gathered in this room right now, are doing their jobs every day, asking questions of officials like the ones you brought forward earlier, are not the enemy of the people. I think … we deserve that," he said.

Acosta later walked out of the press briefing saying it was shameful Sanders would not defend the media.

He's become part of the story

Acosta has been described by Politico as "the chief antagonist for a network that styles itself as Trump's chief antagonist".

His questions and heated confrontations often see him featured in the evening news and even been parodied on shows such as Saturday Night Live.

Beloved by some, his fans reportedly leave bourbon in his mailbox and he's often recognised in the street by supporters who thank him for standing up to President Trump.

But some journalists are worried about the way he has inserted himself into the story and that his confrontational style may just be feeding Trump's accusations that the media is unfair.

Acosta believes he's just doing his job.

"People are going to look back at this moment and ask each and every one of us, 'What did you do when (Trump) was doing this in America?" he told Politico. "'What role did you play?'"

It's his job

Acosta sees asking tough questions as part of his job and he was doing it long before Mr Trump arrived on the scene.

He once asked then-president Barack Obama about Islamic State, saying: "Why can't we take out these bastards?"

He also described the loss of 2000 emails by America's tax service as "that sounds like the dog ate my homework".

During the President's most recent run-in with Acosta, the journalist asked Trump why the so-called caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern US border was such an issue leading up to the midterms.

"You should let me run the country," Trump said. "You run CNN and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better."

As President Donald Trump points to CNN's Jim Acosta, a White House aide tries to take the microphone from him during a news conference. Photo / AP
As President Donald Trump points to CNN's Jim Acosta, a White House aide tries to take the microphone from him during a news conference. Photo / AP

When Acosta tried to ask another question on Russia, Trump said "that's enough!" as a White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta.

"CNN should be ashamed of itself having you work for them," the President said.

"You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN. The way you treat Sarah Sanders is horrible. The way you treat other people is horrible. You shouldn't treat people that way."

But it's not his vigorous questioning that has seen Acosta's White House press pass suspended.

Instead, Sanders tweeted that the administration wouldn't tolerate, a "reporter placing his hands on a young woman" referring to Acosta's interaction with a White House intern, when he refused to give her the microphone.

The claim has been described by Acosta as a "lie".

Others have claimed Sanders used footage doctored by far-right news website InfoWars.

Acosta would not relinquish the microphone and resisted as a White House intern Sanders mentioned — tried to take it and pass it to a different reporter.

CNN has backed its reporter and said Trump's attacks on the press have gone too far.

"They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American," CNN said through its Twitter feed.

"While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it. A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere."

One of the things Acosta was trying to ask Trump after the microphone had been taken away from him, was about the explosive devices that were recently sent to CNN and some of the president's political opponents.

The war on the press has become personal and dangerous. It's difficult to know how the increasingly bitter battle between Trump and the media will end but America's democracy depends on it.