KUOW provided three examples of bogus information stemming from the briefings. All of them — surprise — came from President Trump. From KUOW:
*“Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion,” President Trump said at a live White House briefing on March 19 despite warnings from the U.S. Intelligence community earlier this year.*“You’re seeing very few empty shelves,” our listeners heard live from President Trump on March 20. Local reporting shows many stores are out of basic supplies, including hand soap.*We’re going to be able to make the drug chloroquine “available almost immediately” said President Trump on March 19. The president claimed, incorrectly, that the FDA had fast-tracked approval of its use to treat COVID-19. There isn’t current medical evidence of the efficacy of that drug in treating COVID-19.
KUOW could have gone on, of course, given the number of baseless and just plain bonkers statements coming from the president. These sessions long ago bifurcated into important proclamations and analysis from wise and informed government officials interrupted by clownish commentary from the president. The contrast of his patent incompetence with the professionalism of the task force members, in fact, is perhaps the best argument for airing them unfiltered.
That’s just too dangerous, however.
KUOW notes that the decision is not motivated by politics and that it will be reviewed each day. Good plan, though as long as the president takes the lectern, those daily decisions should be pretty easy.
Earlier this week, MSNBC and CNN cut away from a briefing, a decision that angered the White House. The major broadcast networks did likewise, as they moved to their nightly news broadcasts. More of this!
Bagging the live coverage of the briefings doesn’t mean bagging coverage of the briefings. Newspapers, radio stations and television outlets know quite well how to take in a news conference and prepare a summary of the news. There’s no compulsion to provide a live version. That’s particularly true of these briefings, which are an exercise in diurnal incrementalism. Though there’s a lot happening around the coronavirus scourge, the task force tends to emphasize the same themes each day, and recapping what’s new is a cinch.
Another reliable component of the briefings is baseless and irresponsible blurtings from Trump. Those, too, can be abridged, packaged and fact-checked before they are passed along to the U.S. public.
Doing the right thing on the Trump briefings requires passing up juicy audience numbers. Monday’s session drew more than 12 million viewers to MSNBC, CNN and Fox News — “Monday Night Football” numbers, as the New York Times put it. Yet those tallies grind in two directions: On the one hand, airing the briefings live means that you’re providing a commodity demanded by many people; on the other hand, airing the briefings live means that you’re complicit in dispersing garbage information to many people.
Which imperative prevails? We’ll go with KUOW.