Should you broadcast Sean Spicer’s press conference?

Given Sean Spicer’s first White House press conference, where he said things that were demonstrably false and refused to take any questions, many news organizations are wondering whether they should broadcast today’s press conference, currently scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eastern.

The call is easy: Broadcast it.

There are many valid reasons that television stations opt to pass on the live broadcast of a White House press conference, the most common being that the public is simply not interested. Most of them aren’t. But that’s not true today. At the very least, many in the public are probably wondering whether Spicer will come out swinging against the media.

On the other hand, disseminating Spicer’s words, if they turn out to be false, will contribute to a misinformed public. But journalists have tools available to them that can mitigate this risk. They have chyrons, which they can use to run fact-checks. Given the high-wire nature of live-fact-checking, it’s understandable that many news organizations would be reticent.

That’s OK. They have time after the press conference to set the record straight if necessary. They can break it down, statement by statement. Bring in the experts. Lay out the knowable facts and all the evidence. Better to give the White House a chance to get it right and then correct than to assume that the public can’t be trusted to hear all the evidence.

There are two dangers in refusing to broadcast the press conference: News organizations play into the administration's claim that the press is deliberately misinforming the public by refusing to share the administration’s “alternative facts”. And they abandon the audience that really wants to see it — either because they support President Donald Trump or they are against by him. Both of those audiences need the context that journalists provide.

So, don’t cede what might be your best ability to hold the White House accountable. Show the press conference. Then add the context.

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    Kelly McBride

    Kelly McBride is a writer, teacher and one of the country’s leading voices when it comes to media ethics. She has been on the faculty of The Poynter Institute since 2002 and is now its vice president.


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