Major news providers on Monday began heeding the wise counsel of the Erik Wemple Blog — not to mention that of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and The Post’s Margaret Sullivan. Deep into the coronavirus briefing hosted by President Trump and members of the White House coronavirus task force, CNN and MSNBC cut away from the proceedings. Great news in a time with so little of it.
CNN pulled out of the briefing at 7:19 p.m., after more than 70 minutes of live coverage — coverage that included Trump riffing about the possibility of ending the shutdown measures tailored to suppressing spread of the disease. “So, yeah, it’s bad,” said Trump, responding to a question about a dire prediction from Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams earlier on Monday. “And it’s going to — obviously, the numbers are going to increase with time, and then they’re going to start to decrease. And we’re going to be opening our country up for business because our country was meant to be open and working with others, but especially for our workers.”
That cockamamie theme — yes, things are problematic, but we’re moving toward a relaxation of countermeasures — became something of a mantra for the president. “Within New York, you have areas which are troubling, and we’ll be working with the governor and the mayor and everybody else on those spots,” Trump said. “But at the same time, at a certain point, we have to get open and we have to be — we have to get moving. We don’t want to lose these companies, we don’t want to lose these workers.”
MSNBC cut away at 7:21 p.m., as task force member Deborah L. Birx was explaining coronavirus data and mortality rates. Moments earlier, she had fielded a bizarre question or two from Trump himself:
So we have a lot of very angry media all around this room, and they want one of these seats, but because of social distancing, we are keeping them empty. And they are keeping them empty. Will there ever be a time when all of those really angry, angry people — who don't like me to start off with, but now they really don't like me — will there ever be a time when these seats are full, like full to the brim like it used to be, where people are almost sitting on each other's lap?And this whole row over here is packed, and now they’re outside wanting to get in, and they’re very jealous of all of these reporters. Will we ever have that again, or is that something that will be — you know, it’ll look like this forever?
In light of all the speculation, illogic and rickety optimism that the president has sprayed about the briefing room, this was something of an outlier — a reasonable question about what the future holds. We know that the coronavirus will have a vast and lasting impact on how we live. Why wouldn’t the change affect the White House briefing room? “So we’re learning a lot about social distancing and respiratory diseases. And I think those are the discussions we had to have in the future,” Birx responded to the president. “It was what you were talking about — changing our whole behavior patterns of what we touch, and being conscious of that.”
Fox News stayed with the briefing for its entirety of nearly two hours. Deputy press secretary Judd Deere had some thoughts about the coverage decisions:
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
CNN issued a statement responding that “if the White House wants to ask for time on the network, they should make an official request. Otherwise we will make our own editorial decisions.” An MSNBC spokesperson explained that “the information no longer appeared to be valuable to the important ongoing discussion around public health.”
Though the Erik Wemple Blog is no great booster of cable-news programming, we’ll take it any day over a rambling and lying President Trump. CNN and MSNBC, in fact, need to be more aggressive in cutting off the president in these briefings. There’s no reason their staffers can’t scour the briefing, produce a package with the newsworthy highlights and air it moments after the session concludes. If ever there were a time when Americans can wait for a few minutes, coronavirus is it.
In an email to the Erik Wemple Blog, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denounced the truncated airing of the briefing:
The President has gone to the briefing room every day, along with many experts in various fields in an effort to inform the American public. He and the group are very generous with their time and take many questions from the press. It is astonishing to me that the media is now in the business of deciding what the American people should hear from their President — that’s not their job. It is also the height of hypocrisy for the complaint to now be that the briefings are “too long.” In addition to the most updated information for the health and safety of the country, the President will continue to deliver a message of hope, because that is what a true leader does.
Bolding added to highlight an astonishing claim. If it’s not the job of the media to decide which presidential appearances to cover, what is its job?
Read more by Erik Wemple:
Coronavirus: What you need to know
End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.
Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.
The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.
New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.
Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?
For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.