Trump's Briefing Fiasco

And why the TV networks should stop airing them live and unchecked.

I’m Scott Nover. Welcome back to Pressing, a newsletter about press freedom. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so here and receive this letter in your inbox every Tuesday morning as well as special features for paid subscribers.

This is the 36th issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.


Why Cable Networks Should Think Twice before They Air Trump’s Task Force Briefings Live

For the last two weeks—or what has felt like an eternity—President Donald Trump and his White House Coronavirus Task Force have given regular, if not daily “briefings” about the state of the government’s response. These sessions have gotten significantly worse in recent days.

We’ve seen more of Trump and less of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, a.k.a. the only adult in the room. Beyond that, these sessions have been at best unhelpful and at worst dangerous.

Saint Thomas Chloroquinas

Trump has repeatedly pushed unproven medical advice about hydroxychloroquine, a family of old antimalarial drugs, as a potential treatment for COVID-19. While there have been opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and commentary on Fox News supporting Trump’s hypothesis, this is not currently an FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19. Because of Trump’s crazy talk, there is a shortage of these important drugs which people actually need for diseases and disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. And there have been directly dire consequences too. Three people in Nigeria have been admitted to a hospital for chloroquine poisoning and, in Arizona, a man has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, a parasite treatment for fish. His wife is currently hospitalized for doing the same and said the couple took the chloroquine phosphate after hearing Trump talk about the effects of the medication form of chloroquine.

A Bully of the Press

Trump has consistently bashed journalists throughout this process. On March 13, Trump insulted PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, saying she asked a “nasty question” for inquiring whether he takes responsibility for disbanding the National Security Council’s pandemic office. On Friday, Trump completely unloaded on NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander after Alexander asked whether Trump was touting unproven drugs and giving people false hope. “What do you say to Americans who are scared?” Alexander asked during the exchange. “I say that you are a terrible reporter,” Trump replied. “That's what I say.” He continuing by insulting Alexander, NBC, and its parent company Comcast. On Monday, he called reporters “angry, angry people.” And his Twitter feed has been a hotbed of anti-press tweets.

Cable Networks Need to Stop Going Live to the Briefing

We’re living through trying times and there’s so much at stake. Every day, Americans are dying and many more are getting sick from the coronavirus. We want to hear from our political leaders. Some politicians, including some governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have been giving helpful, realistic, rational, and even comforting briefings. This is not what Trump has been doing. He’s been peddling misinformation, attacking reporters, joking about the disease, joking about the deep state, using racist dogwhistles like calling the coronavirus the Chinese virus, bragging that he’s a “wartime president,” and insulting his political enemies like Senator Mitt Romney who is in quarantine. Above all, Trump is confusing the American people.

We are dealing with an unprecedented global crisis and we, as Americans, have a leadership vacuum. Our president is too narcissistic, too uncouth, too callous to care what’s accurate and what’s not, what’s appropriate and what’s not, what’s helpful and what’s dangerous.

I’m not the only person to make this argument. Smart thinkers like The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan and The Atlantic’s James Fallows have voiced similar opinions. Here’s what I believe: It’s frankly irresponsible for television networks to air unedited, unchecked statements from the president because his words have an immediate and negative effect on the country’s preparedness for this crisis. The news media is doing the public, its audience, a disservice when it shows Trump live and unchecked.

Trump is a performer. Cut the live feeds and maybe he’ll cut some of the crap. Either way, he cannot be trusted at a time of national crisis: He’s proven that time and again. It’s time to figure out whose words may save lives, and whose words may cost lives.


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New RCFP Recommendations

The Reporters Committee published recommendations for journalists, legislators and courts to “ensure access to government information and proceedings is protected” during the coronavirus response effort. The resources focus on access to open meetings and public records, newsgathering in a time of social distancing and shelter in place policies, and judicial transparency. You can read the announcement here and access the recommendations here.


What Else is New?