The return of coronavirus press conferences renews an old question: Should they be televised?

It’s not as if Americans don’t have access to these press conferences. Networks should send reporters to ask questions and then just report the facts.

July 21, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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Here we go again.

President Donald Trump announced Monday the return of the White House coronavirus task force news conferences. They are expected to start up again today at 5 p.m. on your favorite news station.

Well, maybe on your TV.

With the return of the news conferences, expect something else to start up again: the controversy over whether or not to air them.

There are a few schools of thought.

One — which I argued when Trump first started these months ago — is that they should be aired in their entirety because, after all, this was the president and what he said, like it or not, was official. It was actually what the federal government was doing — or not doing.

There was a counter-argument. Many argued that they were too full of misleading statements, false numbers and outright lies and that they needed to be edited down to just the vital, truthful information. My argument was that editing out the lies and reporting only the so-called “good parts” would be to, in a way, protect the president. It would give a false impression that he was doing a good job. If he was/is doing a poor job, don’t the American people deserve to see that?

My opinion has changed, mostly because Trump’s press conferences became more like campaign speeches than pandemic updates. Without the ability to hit the campaign trail, there’s an even greater chance Trump will use this platform as a stump. In fact, his comment about why he is starting up again leaned into that.

“We had very successful briefings,” Trump said Monday. “I was doing them and we had a lot of people watching — record numbers watching in the history of cable television, television, there’s never been anything like it.”

Describing the news conferences as if they were popular is an odd thing to tout when the virus has killed more than 143,000 in this country. It would seem to indicate that they’re his way of dominating the news cycle again, especially at a time when he is struggling in the polls and his job approval is down.

Trump said the updates will center on treatment and vaccines. He also said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany will continue to meet with the media, probably in the morning.

Trump did add another reason to start holding press conferences again: “We have had this big flare-up in Florida, Texas, couple of other places.”

So, back to the question: To air or not to air? It’s not as if Americans don’t have access to these press conferences in their entirety. For those who want to see them in full and unedited, there are outlets, including C-SPAN and, usually, Fox News.

For the other news networks, the best plan is to send reporters to ask questions and then report only the pertinent information.

Wallace and Trump, a day later

A day after his combative interview with President Trump, Fox News’ Chris Wallace was getting almost universal praise for his willingness to real-time fact-check and push back against some of Trump’s wrong and ridiculous claims. Wallace was so strong that many — such as the panelists on ABC’s “The View” — predict you will likely never see Trump sit down with Wallace again. “The View’s” Meghan McCain said, “I think it’s gonna be Sean Hannity from here on out for him.”

Actually, McCain’s comments on Twitter right after the interview were even harsher (and R-rated). McCain tweeted, “Yowza, Chris Wallace…! Now that is how you interview Trump ladies and gentleman. Chris is one of the best ever for a reason, but (expletive), I was waiting for the Mortal Combat narrator to yell ‘finish him’ by the end…. Who on Trump’s comms team prepped him for this?!?”

There was some thought that Wallace merely conducted the kind of interview that journalists routinely used to hold with presidents and leaders — challenging and imposing. And, perhaps, Wallace was given effusive praise because many of his Fox News colleagues would not have confronted Trump like that.

In her Monday column, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan said Wallace’s interview was nothing more than a fig leaf for Fox News. Sullivan wrote the interview was “something the network’s brass and public relations staff can point to in order to counter the criticism that Fox News is nothing but a cheerleader for the president. Call it the ‘but Chris Wallace!’ syndrome. Sunday may have been a spotlight for Wallace’s chops, but Monday morning things were back to their democracy-damaging normal at the nation’s most popular cable network.”

Sullivan pointed out Tucker Carlson returned to the air Monday and that the morning show, “Fox & Friends,” complimented Wallace, but Sullivan wrote, “let the president have his way twisting the facts.”

Sullivan added, “Business as usual, in other words.”

Troubling news at Fox News

Be warned, this item has some disturbing allegations.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, former Fox Business associate producer Jennifer Eckhart alleged that former Fox News on-air personality Ed Henry raped and assaulted her and “performed sadistic acts on her without her consent that left her injured, bruised and battered with bloody wrists.” Along with Eckhart, fellow plaintiff Cathy Areu, a frequent Fox News guest, accused on-air talent — including Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Howard Kurtz — of sexual harassment. Fox News was also named in the suit.

Henry was fired last month after allegations of misconduct were leveled against him and investigated by an independent law firm. You can read the allegations and the lawsuit in a Daily Beast story from Lloyd Grove and Maxwell Tani, and they are very troubling.

In a statement, Fox News said, “Based on the findings of a comprehensive independent investigation conducted by an outside law firm, including interviews with numerous eyewitnesses, we have determined that all of Cathy Areu’s claims against FOX News, including its management as well as its hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity & Howard Kurtz and its contributor Gianno Caldwell, are false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit. We take all claims of harassment, misconduct and retaliation seriously, promptly investigating them and taking immediate action as needed — in this case, the appropriate action based on our investigation is to defend vigorously against these baseless allegations. Ms. Areu and Jennifer Eckhart can pursue their claims against Ed Henry directly with him, as FOX News already took swift action as soon as it learned of Ms. Eckhart’s claims on June 25 and Mr. Henry is no longer employed by the network.”

The suit alleges “Mr. Henry groomed, psychologically manipulated and coerced Ms. Eckhart into having a sexual relationship with him.”

The suit also said, “Mr. Henry not only leveraged this imbalance of power for control over his victim, Ms. Eckhart, but asked her to be his ‘sex slave’ and his ‘little whore,’ and threatened punishment and retaliation if Ms. Eckhart did not comply with his sexual demands.”

There’s much, much more graphic detail in The Daily Beast story.

A big promotion

ABC News’ Rachel Scott. (Courtesy: ABC News)

ABC News announced Monday that Rachel Scott has been promoted to White House correspondent and D.C. correspondent. Scott tweeted Monday, “Just 75 years ago someone who looked like me didn’t have a credential into a White House built by slaves. The first black female White House reporter pawned her watch every week to eat. Grateful the next time I walk through the gates it will be as a White House correspondent.”

Scott has extensive experience covering Trump’s reelection campaign and the Democratic primaries. More recently, she reported on the protests following the killing of George Floyd, as well as the coronavirus pandemic. She started at ABC News in 2016 as a production associate.

In a statement, ABC News said, “She is an exceptional reporter with an unwavering dedication to great journalism, keen ability to handle fast-breaking news and considerable skills for juggling multiple assignments.”

New gig for Bob Costas

Bob Costas (Courtesy: CNN)

Bob Costas — the winner of 28 Emmys, mostly for his work at NBC Sports — has joined CNN as a commentator. CNN said Costas will offer commentary and perspective on a “wide range of sports-related issues as the industry adapts to new challenges posed by the coronavirus and the frequent intersection of sports with the larger societal issues.”

This is a smart move by CNN. Costas is an elite TV voice who was long considered the voice of reason about sports during his time hosting just about every major sporting event in North America. And he isn’t afraid to speak his mind, which he proved when he was critical of the NFL while serving as host of NBC’s NFL coverage.

A powerful cover

(Photo: Steve Schapiro/Getty Images)

The above is the upcoming cover of Time magazine, hitting newsstands on Friday. It shows John Lewis in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1963 when he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. On Time’s website right now is Alana Abramson’s obit of Lewis, Lily Rothman with “Why John Lewis Kept Telling the Story of Civil Rights, Even Though It Hurt,” and Josiah Bates writing about Lewis’ reflections of the March on Washington speech.

Media tidbits

  • The Associated Press has decided to not capitalize the W in white when talking about white people. Poynter’s Eliana Miller with the story.
  • Joy Reid’s new show on MSNBC debuted Monday night. Her first guest: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Her first show also had an interview with Hillary Clinton.
  • Is there going to be a union at The Dallas Morning News? Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds has the details.

Hot type

This story has been updated to say that Jennifer Eckhart, who is suing Fox News and former on-air personality Ed Henry, is a former Fox Business associate producer.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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