President Trump’s daily press briefings during the coronavirus pandemic have drawn millions of viewers, but some in the media have criticized television networks for airing the briefings which have veered into misinformation and campaign rhetoric.
“If it were up to me, and it’s not, I would stop putting those briefings on live TV,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said on her show last week. “Not out of spite, but because it’s misinformation… Honestly, it’s going to cost lives.”
“It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, told Science magazine last week.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough tweeted during Monday’s briefing that all networks should cut away.
There is no public benefit to this briefing. The networks should all cut away.
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) March 23, 2020
In a recent article, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias emphasized the lack of relevant and substantive content in the briefings, referring to them as “The Trump Show.” Yglesias argued that the briefings have functioned more as campaign rallies than public health briefings.
“The bigger mistake is carrying them live,” said Clyde Haberman, a former columnist at The New York Times. “Yes, cover his show. Then air only the highlights. But it’s an abdication of sound [journalism] to just let him natter on and on, turning these press conferences into rallies for himself.”
The calls to cut Trump off have also emanated from staffers at a variety of networks who are concerned about the way Trump has been undermining his own medical experts, particularly Fauci.
“The nice part is that it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody,” Trump said last week about hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that is being tested by the Food and Drug Administration as a therapeutic for COVID-19. “I think it’s going to be very exciting. I think it could be a game changer and maybe not.”
An Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized last week after self-medicating with chloroquine phosphate, which has not yet been approved to the general public for the treatment of COVID-19. The woman was familiar with chloroquine because she used it to maintain her koi fish but recalled Trump talking about it as a potential treatment.
“I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?” she said.
Trump’s former presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton, took to Twitter to warn Americans about listening to Trump’s coronavirus advice.
Please do not take medical advice from a man who looked directly at a solar eclipse.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 24, 2020
CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News and NBC News have begun to cut away from the briefings. During the briefing on March 23, they all cut away after only 20 minutes. But in that time, Trump had contradicted medical experts and attacked journalists. Notably, Fox News continued to air the press conference, which earned praise from a White House spokesman on Twitter.
Pretty disgraceful that @CNN and @MSNBC have both cut away from this @WhiteHouse briefing with @realDonaldTrump and @Mike_Pence during a global pandemic. Thank you to @FoxNews for keeping Americans informed. #COVID19
— Judd Deere (@JuddPDeere45) March 23, 2020
Seattle public radio station KUOW has gone a step further and will no longer broadcast Trump’s coronavirus briefings altogether, citing a number of false or exaggerated statements he has made during these pressers in the past two weeks.
“After airing the White House briefings live for two weeks, a pattern of false information and exaggeration increasingly had many at KUOW questioning whether these briefings were in the best service of our mission—to create and serve a more informed public,” the station announced in a statement. “Of even greater concern was the potential impact of false information on the health and safety of our community.”