It was 7:12 p.m. on Tuesday night when President Trump lost MSNBC. He was responding to a question about whether he’d gotten more serious about the coronavirus. So he did what he usually does in such situations, which is to detail his travel restrictions. “We did catch it early and we stopped China really early and we stopped Europe really early 'cause I saw what was happening,” said the president.

At that point, he discussed Italy, mentioned Spain and said, “Europe! I love Europe!”

MSNBC had seen enough. By that point, Trump had been standing at the front of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for more than 100 minutes, along with key members of his coronavirus task force. MSNBC had carried the proceedings live, though host Chuck Todd warned his audience in advance that “we know these briefings have a tendency to veer in a lot of directions. Not all of them are informative or relevant in the midst of this crisis.”

Correct. “If it veers too much off, we will break off and come back here but for the most part we want to listen in to the information we hope he is bringing to all of us,” said Todd. Bolding added to highlight a faint hope: Trump has used these briefings to spread misinformation, poorly girded optimism and propaganda.

The Post’s Margaret Sullivan explained March 31 how President Trump’s coronavirus task force briefings can veer away from newsworthiness. (The Washington Post)

When MSNBC cut away from the briefing, host Ari Melber explained that the network was continuing to monitor the proceedings and would bring any further news to the attention of viewers. “We cut off the president at this juncture because we have gotten a great deal of information as well as other statements, and we’re going to go through it for you,” said Melber.

CNN’s edits cut deeper. The network skipped Trump’s opening remarks and joined the briefing only when he ceded the lectern to his task force experts, Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci. CNN cut in to hear Birx talking about data: “From that large blue mountain that you can see behind me and I just want to thank the five or six international and domestic modelers from Harvard, from Columbia, from Northeastern, from Imperial, who helped us tremendously. It was their models that created the ability to see what these mitigations could do."

From there, CNN stuck with the session until its news value started to peter out. Minutes after the love-Europe moment, Trump was asked about discussions with Christian evangelist Franklin Graham. “I just spoke to him today for an extended period of time,” said Trump. “I told him what a fantastic job you’re doing … He loves helping people. And he loves Jesus, that I can tell you. He loves Jesus. He’s a great gentleman.”

At that, CNN went to anchor Erin Burnett. “All right. And you have been listening to President Trump and his corona task force briefing with, of course, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx with him and Vice President Pence.”

Fox News, meanwhile, plowed right through to the end of the briefing, more than two hours in all.

Some criticized MSNBC and CNN for not staying with the briefing from start to finish:

For the sake of balance, there were plenty of voices endorsing the selectiveness of MSNBC and CNN. The Erik Wemple Blog is among them. Even though there’s plenty of news on coronavirus each day, marathon briefings are bound to include themes and details that have been repeated over and over. To further complicate the situation, Trump speaks quite a bit. And as many critics have noted, the sessions sometimes feel like campaign events. At Monday’s presser, for example, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell discussed his company’s production of cotton face masks and appended a prayer that included these words: “God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” said Lindell, referring to the date of Trump’s election. “God had been taken out of our schools and lives, a nation had turned its back on God. I encourage you to use this time at home to get back in the Word. Read our Bible and spend time with our families.”

CNN didn’t air that bit.

The point here is that the briefings are a sprawling, confounding mishmash. They include newsworthy announcements, scientific advice, data analysis and important precautions but also misinformation, wacky statements, chest-beating bravado and professions of Franklin Graham’s love for Jesus — the last four coming from the president of the United States. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it, as Trump might just say.

No wonder, then, that the cable-news networks would clamber toward a meaningful way of handling these remarkable get-togethers.

When MSNBC and CNN cut away from a previous briefing, White House communications aide Judd Deere tweeted:

In fact, keeping Americans informed requires editing this president. A lot.

Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health. (Erik Wemple/The Washington Post)

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