Calls are increasing for cable networks to stop airing President Donald Trump’s press conferences live as critics believe Trump is turning White House news briefings into virtual campaign rallies that can “get people killed” with lies about the Coronavirus crisis. The pressure only increased after Trump’s Friday briefing.
The Atlantic’s James Fallows believes the attention-starved Trump is turning the press conferences into “virtual campaign” rallies and Trump would actually lose interest in showing up if the media did not cover the briefings live.
“Also, as a practical matter, if the briefings were no longer covered live, Trump would lose interest in attending himself,” Fallows argues. “Then the scientists could come back on stage—and eventually they could be covered live again.”
Fallows noticed that Trump only “dropped his previous pooh-poohing of the virus threat” and “struck a somber” tone for just a day before reverting “back to the more accustomed tone of tweets and his rallies. In those settings he has had two constant themes: that he is so great, and that his critics are such cheating losers, each point usually based on information that was false”:
The tone, and the false data, returned yesterday. Much of what Trump said was false: Most dramatically, his claim that the FDA had just approved use of an anti-malaria drug for treatment of COVID-19, and that it would be a “game-changer.” (FDA officials immediately clarified that they had done no such thing.)
Trump’s new fondness for these “briefings,” and their increasing conversion into Trump campaign rallies with scientists rather than local-government officials as the supporting cast, should cause cable-news producers to reflect on the path they are headed down.
In the year after Trump declared his candidacy in the summer of 2015, cable channels ran so many of his “Lock her up!” rallies live and at full length, that the coverage amounted to hugely valuable free campaign publicity. One source calculated the free-airtime values as being worth several billion dollars.
From Trump’s point of view, it makes sense to turn these events into the unfiltered airtime he used to count on at mass rallies. From the media’s point of view, it made sense to cover the first few of them live. But given the rising falsehood quotient in what Trump says, and his determination to cut off or divert questioners who try to ask about these falsehoods, cable networks should stop airing these as live spectacles and instead report, afterwards, with clips of things Trump and others said, and whether they were true.
Their real reason for live coverage back during Trump’s rise was that ratings went up: People wanted to watch these spectacles. Even if that’s still true, we certainly have learned that Trump will use most of his time to attack and lie, and that panelists’ corrections never catch up. In time of crisis, cable-news channels are making the public less informed, and thus increasing public danger, by providing such a convenient platform for lies.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Friday evening ripped Trump for being “wildly irresponsible” and “consistently lying” by telling “fairy tales” during the live briefings.
“If it were up to me, and it’s not, I would stop putting those briefings on live TV. Not out of spite but because it’s misinformation,” Maddow said. “If Trump is going to keep lying like he has been every day on stuff this important, we should, all of us, stop broadcasting it. Honestly, it’s going to cost lives.”
Maddow: If Trump is going to keep lying like he has been every day on stuff this important, we should, all of us, stop broadcasting it. Honestly, it's going to cost lives. pic.twitter.com/tMvyrE3YTK
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) March 21, 2020
At the Boston Globe, columnist Michael A. Cohen writes that “the simple fact is that the president can’t be trusted to tell the truth. Period. In a crisis as grave as this one, allowing him to spread misinformation is an unacceptably risky move.”
“Practically every time Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus pandemic he lies, exaggerates, offers false hope, and spreads misinformation. His statements are increasingly a menace to public safety. It’s time for cable news networks to stop giving him a platform for his untruths by refusing to provide live coverage of his press conferences,” Cohen argues.
Cohen adds that he does not “take this position lightly…. but these are not ordinary times and this is no ordinary president.” To Cohen, “it’s bad enough that Trump Is lying about his administration’s incompetent response to the coronavirus,” but Trump is now “sowing doubt about the credibility of news organizations that are essential to providing clear and honest information to the American people.”
“At a moment of true national cataclysm, allowing him to use the bully pulpit in such an irresponsible manner is a risk we can’t afford to take,” Cohen continues. “His words raise the risk that Americans — particularly those who support the president — will ignore public health information that could potentially save lives.”
Others have suggested that the media just “record” any presser Trump attends and then “tell people what is true and what is false.”
— Jamison Foser (@jamisonfoser) March 19, 2020
Take Away Trump’s Microphone https://t.co/cCsUZE7zuy
— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) March 20, 2020
The country is going through a lot of trauma and the least television media can do is stop airing these press conferences live.
Record them and tell people what is true and what is false.
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 20, 2020
@NBCNews @CBSNews @abcnews @CNN @MSNBC
Stop airing these press conferences — all of you. Between raging on Peter Alexander or his repeated use of the bigoted "Chinese Virus," Trump has proved that he's just as damaging and unserious as he's always been. DO NOT REPEAT 2016.
— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) March 20, 2020
Stop disseminating Trump’s anti-Asian hate. Stop reflexively reprinting his racist nicknames for the virus. Hell, stop airing his lie-filled press conferences altogether. https://t.co/lPNkD1cZBt
— The Nation (@thenation) March 20, 2020
It's time for networks to stop airing Trump's daily propaganda live https://t.co/bCX09FWSxF
— Daily Kos (@dailykos) March 20, 2020
In my new post I call on the press to shift to an "emergency" footing in the coverage of Donald Trump. https://t.co/VHrS6OJI9s It is written as an editor's note explaining the change.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) March 20, 2020
It is extraordinarily irresponsible for cable news networks to be airing these live.
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) March 20, 2020
trump is LIVING for these daily press conferences and using them as a replacement for his propaganda rallies.
stop airing these. it's causing more harm than good.
— Ana Defillo (@adefillo) March 20, 2020
Americans are dying. The economy is collapsing. And yet networks are making the same EXACT mistake they made throughout 2016 airing unfiltered Trump propaganda masquerading as "news." None of this is news/substantive & unless WH proves otherwise networks need to stop airing them
— Adam Blickstein (@AdamBlickstein) March 20, 2020