Trump coronavirus briefings are a ratings smash, but some in media urging cancelation

Are growing calls to curtail live coverage of daily pressers motivated by a journalistic urge for truth — or control?

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Trump coronavirus daily briefing
President Trump speaks at daily coronavirus press briefing, March 25
(Mandel Ngan/Gett)
Last Updated:
March 27, 2020 - 10:53pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

President Donald Trump’s daily coronavirus press briefings are the season’s unexpected ratings smash.

The New York Times reported the pressers, starring President Trump and a shifting cast of medical experts, draw roughly 8.5 million viewers on cable news. For comparison, ABC cheered the number who tuned in for “A Million Little Things’” season finale this week: 4.34 million viewers.

Those numbers for Trump’s briefings do not include data from the major networks, which also broadcast these events. Or, at least, they did.

Now, a growing chorus of both progressive and mainstream media voices are suddenly insisting that outlets severely curtail their live coverage of the daily pressers.

The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan argued for just such a stance. A Seattle NPR affiliate, KUOW, has stopped airing them entirely. The station blamed “a pattern of false or misleading information that cannot be fact checked in real time.”

A reporter for the station called the pressers “non fact checked, horse**** marathon daily ‘briefing’ spin” on Twitter.

The station didn’t return JustTheNews.com’s request for further comment on the matter. 

None of this is dissuading average Americans from devouring the briefings, which feature urgently valuable information from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the uncommonly articulate Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

All of this comes as President Trump’s approval ratings are on the rise. His handling of the pandemic specifically also is scoring high marks, with a Gallup poll revealing 60% of Americans approve of his crisis management.

Veteran media critic Bernard Goldberg understands the skepticism aimed at the briefings … to a point.

“I have no problem with news organizations not going from beginning to end [with the pressers],” said Goldberg, a longtime CBS reporter who examines current press coverage at BernardGoldberg.com. “A lot of it just isn’t newsworthy.”

Reporters should hold a president accountable for misstatements, much like any politician, Goldberg readily acknowledges. “If they think the president is misleading the American people, put together a collection of his supposed misstatements and then run the correct statements along with it,” he said.

The veteran reporter does question the motivation behind his colleagues’ newfound insistence on White House accuracy, though.

“I don’t remember this great concern when Barack Obama over 30 times told the American people, ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,’” he said, referring to what PolitiFact later dubbed 2013’s Lie of the Year. “There’s always more concern with statements from Republicans than Democrats.”

The media’s reasoning appears “suspect,” he added, especially since former Vice President Joe Biden, currently the favorite to square off against President Trump come November, has had his fair share of misstatements on the pandemic of late.

“There’s such a relentless drumbeat against this president,” Goldberg said. “Even when [reporters are] right, I’m suspicious of their motives.”

At PressWatchers.org, Dan Froomkin argues a new approach is necessary to cover Trump’s daily pressers.

“When Trump spreads misinformation, the networks need to show viewers, in real time, the correct information,” he wrote. “When he lies and contradicts himself, they need to provide the necessary context as he speaks. When he puffs himself up, they need to remind viewers of his massive failures. What I’m talking about is more than just fact-checking. It’s also reality-checking and gaslighting fighting.”

Froomkin, a former contributor to The Intercept and The Huffington Post, declined to comment for this story.

Republicans long wary of liberal media bias see a transparent ulterior motive behind the mounting calls to cut off live coverage of the White House pressers, says Tim Graham, executive editor of Newsbusters.org. To Republican ears, Graham says, these demands translate as: “[Trumps’s] approval ratings are going up, so we’ll blame the briefings.” 

The critiques, Graham says, ring increasingly hollow based on the robust viewership to date. To him the critics’ position amounts to: “The ratings are very strong. Let’s not run it.” What kind of editor or producer, he wonders, sees those numbers and decides to show less, not more?

Graham is sardonically dismissive of claims that the pressers attempt to resurrect Trump’s now-suspended mass rallies. “The audience is not exactly MAGA-hat-wearing audiences,” he wryly observed. “[Critics] are upset he’s using the same phrases he uses in his rallies. They’re really upset that he’s communicating to his voters through the press briefers. Yes, no president has done that before.”

Graham agrees with Goldberg that the media’s unwillingness to fact-check Biden undercuts their pretensions to a lofty concern about the president misinforming and misleading the public.

Goldberg says media calls to predigest the coronavirus press briefings for naive viewers will only backfire and further erode the trust many once had in journalism. 

“Even independents and many Democrats have lost faith in the mainstream media,” Goldberg said.

 

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