It had been nearly a month since Sarah Sanders had held what was once known as a “daily” briefing. So when the White House press secretary — along with White House officials Larry Kudlow and John Bolton — took the podium on Tuesday afternoon, cable-news channels jumped right on the proceedings. Well, most of them, anyway.
While CNN and Fox News carried the tripartite briefing from the very beginning, MSNBC stayed away — until it had blown off the entire session.
In doing so, it had missed a chance to beam a live presentation of Kudlow saying, “We’ll see what happens. … Our economy’s in very good shape right now”; of Bolton saying he hadn’t listened to the audio recording of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi (“I guess I should ask you, why do you think I should, what do you think I’ll learn from it?”); of Sanders saying this about Trump and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation: “I don’t think the president has any concerns about the [Mueller] report because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion.”
Instead of all that, MSNBC carried segments on the following topics: Trump’s trade wars; the state of the auto industry, in light of GM’s announced plant closings; the stock market and the welfare of the U.S. worker; a deadly attack on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; a Guardian report that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, had met with Julian Assange; and the U.S. Senate election in Mississippi. After the press briefing concluded, MSNBC plowed ahead with more on GM, including an interview with Hamtramck, Mich., Mayor Karen Majewski, a segment on the Mueller investigation, a politics roundup, a mention of “giving Tuesday.”
Look what you can accomplish when you decline to hand over your airwaves to unreliable narrators.
It’s hard to overstate the journalistic merits of this approach. There was a time, before Sean Spicer turned press briefings into I-can’t-believe-he-just-said-that extravaganzas, that the rest of the world would continue with its business as the White House press briefing chugged along. When there was big news afoot, perhaps the cable-news networks would carry it live. And they might cut away from other coverage to a newsworthy scene in the briefing room. But as a general rule, some flack dishing out talking points at the White House wasn’t worthy of live, hold-everything televised coverage.
With this approach, journalists at MSNBC can evaluate what happened at the briefing and reach measured decisions about whether to incorporate the goings-on into its work. At the top of the 3 p.m. hour, for instance, host Ali Velshi played a clip of Sanders’s no-wrongdoing quote from the briefing, as part of a package on Mueller and Manafort. Another a la carte bonus is that network correspondents needn’t scramble to correct or otherwise amend all the baseless claims with which Trumpites commonly litter live television.
MSNBC distinguished itself with a similar move on Nov. 1, when it didn’t transmit live a fearmongering presidential address about immigration and the caravan in Mexico. At the time, MSNBC declined to comment. Asked about Tuesday’s decisions, an MSNBC source said, “Given the pace of the day’s news we decided to monitor the briefing and to report on any major developments afterwards. The briefing was live streamed on NBCNews.com.”
Bolding added to highlight a reasonable standard, one that hopefully will catch on with other broadcasters.