Yes, Of Course the Networks Should Keep Airing the White House's Daily Coronavirus Briefings

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Posted: Mar 27, 2020 10:15 AM
Yes, Of Course the Networks Should Keep Airing the White House's Daily Coronavirus Briefings

I cannot believe the following sentiment runs counter to the emerging media conventional wisdom, and therefore needs to be stated explicitly, but here it is: America's cable news networks should absolutely continue to air daily press conferences from the White House Coronavirus task force.  We are in the midst of a global pandemic, with confirmed cases and deaths mounting each day.  The economy has ground to a halt due to hugely restrictive measures implemented by the government to slow the spread of the disease.  People are anxious and starved for information.  The public's appetite is strong and demonstrable:

Since reviving the daily White House briefing — a practice abandoned last year by an administration that bristles at outside scrutiny — Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of “The Bachelor.” And the numbers are continuing to rise, driven by intense concern about the virus and the housebound status of millions of Americans who are practicing social distancing. On Monday, nearly 12.2 million people watched Mr. Trump’s briefing on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, according to Nielsen — “Monday Night Football” numbers. Millions more are watching on ABC, CBS, NBC and online streaming sites. 

Those statistics are from a New York Times story premised on the question of whether these sessions should be carried live.  It usefully touches on a previous complaint from the media; namely, that the White House wasn't conducting regular briefings.  Now we have detailed briefings every single day, in the middle of a major crisis, and journalists are stroking their chins about whether it's responsible to 'allow' the public to watch them as they unfold, absent "professional" filtering from the self-appointed truth squad.  It's blinkered and ridiculous, but it's an increasingly common refrain:


The argument is that Trump is so reckless and deceitful that it's actually a hazard to allow him to speak uninterrupted on live television (even though this is what the networks gleefully afforded him in 2016, when media liberals viewed him as a great-for-ratings candidate and a surefire general election loser).  Another strain of this mindset is that the Coronavirus briefings are thinly-disguised campaign rallies.  This is also ludicrous and insulting.  Yes, the president goes off on tangents and makes political points.  Yes, he gets things wrong, exaggerates, distorts, and engages in gratuitous self-congratulation (I'll also say that grading on a substantial curve, Trump has been markedly better in recent weeks).  Yes, members of his administration who join him at the podium are often weirdly obsequious in their praise of his leadership.  

But let's be clear: None of those objections even come close to eclipsing the undeniable news value of these pressers.  The news judgment calculus just isn't a close call.  Citizens are able to hear directly from the president and members of his cabinet, on a wide array of issues, ranging from cooperation with states, to medical supply chain updates, to executive orders and other consequential actions.  Medical experts like the Surgeon General and Doctors Fauci and Birx furnish the public with detailed data and analyses about the pandemic itself, including specifics on trajectories and mitigation efforts.  And reporters get to challenge all of these officials with questions -- often pointed but sometimes inane -- providing accountability in real time.  I'll also highlight this observation:


That's a tell.  Based on their own gripes and standards, the post-Trump portion of Wednesday's briefing should have been the most responsible and trustworthy segment to air live.  It featured only the Vice President, Fauci and Birx.  Yet they cut away because 'the show' was over, and their on air personalities were no doubt brimming with indignant talking point about 'the show.'  Call me a cynic, but I can't help but wonder if Trump's improving job approval ratings, including on his handling of this crisis, might be partially stirring the media's frustrated muttering about quasi-censoring his press conferences.  New Gallup data pegs his approval on this front at a healthy (60/38), which undoubtedly makes his relentless press critics feel frustrated, impotent, and out of touch.  Perhaps they should have a long, hard think about that.  And also about this chart, which shows above-water public confidence in every entity polled -- with a glaring exception:

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I'll leave you with an important analysis CNN and MSNBC viewers would have missed on Wednesday:


Of course there are very worrisome and heartbreaking developments (read this) amid this pandemic, but there are also factors that provide needed context and even hope (also read this).  Finally, here's my radio monologue on this issue: