Mar 26, 2020 - Health

Trump's coronavirus briefings see big audiences. Some argue that's bad

Photo: MandelL Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump's daily White House novel coronavirus task force briefings are attracting record viewership, but some critics say TV news networks shouldn't air them because he and administration officials have dispensed misinformation about COVID-19.

Why it matters: Live briefings can be difficult for networks to fact-check in real time. Critics argue that airing the press events unfiltered on a daily basis will mislead the public about the pandemic, putting Americans' health and safety at risk.

Driving the news: Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote: "More and more each day, President Trump is using his daily briefings as a substitute for the campaign rallies that have been forced into extinction by the spread of the novel coronavirus."

  • A Seattle NPR station tweeted on Wednesday that it would stop airing the virus briefings live due to the threat of misinformation.
  • Other critics are calling on news networks to stop airing the briefings live, or at least not without improved real-time fact-checking.
  • "Cable news should cancel the Trump Show," Vox.com co-founder Matthew Yglesias wrote.
  • MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said on her show, "All of us should stop broadcasting it, honestly," adding, "It's going to cost lives."

Between the lines: After months of avoiding official White House briefings, Trump is finally finding his footing while taking questions from the press corps about the virus.

  • But a variety of moments between Trump and the media have been tense, specifically when reporters call out the president for presenting false or misleading claims about COVID-19.
  • Notably, the president has come under fire for downplaying the severity of the virus and for implying that chloroquine, an old, cheap anti-malarial drug, could be used as a potential coronavirus treatment, although it's way too soon to put much stock into its effectiveness, per Axios' Caitlin Owens.

Be smart: The criticism largely falls along party lines. While some members of the press are calling for networks to stop featuring the briefings, other members of the media suggest refusing to broadcast the press conferences would be out of spite for the president.

  • Newsmax's John Cardillo tweeted: "Trump's critics say networks should stop airing coronavirus briefings. Of course. They need to push panic and hysteria while @realDonaldTrump, ⁦@VP, and Dr. Birx are finding solutions. The MSM can’t have that."
  • But major networks other than Fox News pulled away from Trump's press briefing on Monday, as the president widely contradicted public health experts on the risk of the virus, Business Insider notes.

The big picture: Television networks have long grappled with how to cover White House briefings and administration remarks live, while also performing accuracy checks in real time.

  • Some have used chyrons to fact-check the president's comments, while others have stopped taking the briefings altogether.
  • CNN occasionally fact-checked former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' briefings live, splitting the screen between Huckabee Sanders' delivery and a chyron detailing the credibility of her claims.

The bottom line: While the Trump administration is no stranger to calls for accountability, the life-and-death nature of the COVID-19 outbreak amplifies the issue and the media's role in presenting it to the public.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to note that President Trump recommended chloroquine, not chloroquine phosphate.

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