Will the White House coronavirus press conferences go away?

Your Monday Poynter Report

April 27, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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Who knows what’s going to happen with the daily White House coronavirus press conferences?

President Donald Trump held one of his shortest briefings on Friday — just 21 minutes with no questions. There were no briefings Saturday or Sunday. We could see fewer briefings in the coming weeks, according to a story from NBC News’ Monica Alba and Lauren Egan.

“You cannot keep doing these press conferences if you don’t have significant updates,” one administration official told Alba and Egan.

But there might be another reason the president could cut back on the briefings. He has become frustrated by them. On Saturday, the president tweeted, “What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately. They get record ratings, & the American people get nothing but Fake News. Not worth the time & effort!”

Aside from providing updates on the pandemic, Trump appears to be using the briefings as rallies as he often touts his high “ratings” and brags about his administration’s response to the coronavirus. But, now, the briefings might be having the opposite effect. They might be hurting him.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman wrote, “His daily news briefings on the coronavirus outbreak are inflicting grave damage on his political standing, Republicans believe, and his recent remarks about combating the virus with sunlight and disinfectant were a breaking point for a number of senior party officials.”

The White House briefings have been a source of controversy for weeks — from what is said in them to whether networks should air them to Trump’s attacks on the media to even which reporters are supposed to be there. Last Friday, the White House tried to have CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins removed from her normal seat to one in the back row.

There’s more. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump and Ashley Parker wrote a detailed piece about the press briefings and what Trump has said in them. Bump and Parker found that Trump has spoken for more than 28 hours in 35 briefings from March 16 through April 24. Over the past three weeks, Trump had spoken 13 hours. During that time, he spent 2 hours and 45 minutes on attacks and praising himself and his administration, while spending 4 1/2 minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims.

Bump and Parker wrote, “Trump has attacked someone in 113 out of 346 questions he has answered — or a third of his responses. He has offered false or misleading information in nearly 25% of his remarks. And he has played videos praising himself and his administration’s efforts three times, including one that was widely derided as campaign propaganda produced by White House aides at taxpayer expense.”

The Post, too, reported that the press briefings could be having a much more negative impact than the president intended. Bump and Parker wrote:

“Some administration officials, outside Republicans and other Trump allies say the briefings have increasingly become a distraction, and they fear they are doing more to harm than help the president’s reelection hopes. They worry that Trump is squandering the opportunity to demonstrate presidential leadership and be the ‘wartime president’ he has claimed to be by picking petty fights and appearing childish and distracted.”

For that reason, don’t be surprised if we see fewer press conferences in the coming weeks. Then again, Trump is so unpredictable that the press briefings could resume as normal.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

Powerful words

Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, is not normally one to take to Twitter or release a statement every time President Trump (or anyone, for that matter) attacks the media. But in a column published just this morning on NBC Think, Lack had some powerful words for the president as he stuck up for journalism.

Lack wrote, “President Donald Trump came into office railing against many of the foundations of our democratic institutions, including a free press. Forty months into his administration, coverage of the coronavirus outbreak is the latest sign that — contrary to conventional wisdom — he hasn’t laid a glove on serious journalism.”

Lack said that in his four decades of journalism, including covering catastrophes, wars and social upheaval, the “hallmarks of good journalism have seldom seemed more important than they do right now.”

He said journalists are seeking out the truth now, just like they did in covering things like World War ll and the Vietnam War. The lone goal: to give the audience the truth. He recalled how Ben Bradlee, the late legendary editor of The Washington Post, once told Lack that the most important role of journalism is to find the truth, to find out what happened.

Lack wrote, “At this dark hour, people are scared. They’re being bombarded daily by noise and information, not all of it correct — some of it intentionally divisive and polarizing. They’re hungry for accurate information and the straight, unvarnished truth. Now, and in all the days to come, journalists will be there.”

It’s a strong piece, well worth your time.

What prizes?

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Trump went on another anti-media Twitter rant on Sunday. But he got his facts a little twisted. In a since-deleted tweet (captured here), the president said, “When will all of the ‘reporters’ who have received Noble Prizes for their work on Russia, Russia, Russia, only to have been proven totally wrong (and, in fact, it was the other side who committed the crimes), be turning back their cherished ‘Nobles’ so that they can be given….”

Actually, they are Nobel Prizes, not Noble Prizes. And, journalists don’t win Nobel (or Noble) prizes. They win Pulitzer Prizes.

A day in the life

April 15 was estimated by many experts to be the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City. And The New Yorker was there to document it. In the latest issue, which was published online this morning, more than 40 New Yorker writers and photographers fanned out across New York City on April 15 to record history.

Some of the work was done virtually, but there was plenty of on-the-ground reporting, too. The stories include features on a subway-station manager in Manhattan, an emergency room nurse in the Bronx, fourth-generation owners of a bagel shop, a tug boat captain, a drug dealer, a sex worker, a museum conservator and a dog walker.

The package includes a multimedia presentation and a special “The New Yorker Radio Hour.”

Biden accuser blasts Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Invision/AP)

Former Joe Biden staffer Tara Reade, who has accused the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee of sexually assaulting her in 1993, said she has “lost total respect” for CNN’s Anderson Cooper for not asking Biden about her claims.

Reade told Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn, “I think it’s shocking that this much time has passed and that he is an actual nominee for president and they’re not asking the questions. He’s been on ‘Anderson Cooper’ at least twice where he was not asked.”

Reade wondered why her accusations against Biden are not being covered like the accusations against Supreme Court associate justice Brett Kavanaugh — or what would have happened if the same accusation was made against President Trump.

“In other words, it’s politics and political agenda playing a role in objective reporting and asking the question,” Reade said.

About Cooper, Reade said, “I really would look to (Cooper) for answers and I would never do that again. I’ve lost total respect.”

A ratings touchdown

In this still image from video provided by the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during the NFL football draft, Friday, April 24, 2020. (NFL via AP)

Think sports fans miss sports? You bet they do. The NFL Draft ratings smashed all-time records. The NFL said more than 55 million tuned in over the three days — a whopping 35% jump over last year.

Thursday night’s first round on ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital attracted 15.6 million — which crushed the record of 12.4 million set in 2014. Friday’s day two, which had the second and third rounds, drew 8.2 million viewers. That, too, was a record.

So, naturally, the whole weekend set a record. The average three-day audience was 8.4 million, which topped last year’s previous record of 6.2 million viewers.

Under normal circumstances, the NFL Draft can be a bear to cover for networks, with a slew of analysts dissecting and breaking down more than 250 players who are being drafted at a dizzying pace by 32 teams. It can be like herding cats. Now throw in the fact that the whole draft and coverage of it was pretty much done remotely and it was a draft unlike any other.

Because of that, the draft did feel monotonous at times, and might have been boring for non-diehards. But the fact that the whole thing came off with no major glitches is remarkable and a testament to just how talented and prepared the NFL and the networks were for this virtual event. Again, it didn’t equal the coverage we’ve seen in past years, but how could it? Considering the circumstances, the draft was a smashing success.

Another winner

Though not as entertaining as the first try at it two weeks ago, “Saturday Night Live’s” latest at-home episode over the weekend was another solid effort. It was highlighted by Brad Pitt’s not-bad imitation of Dr. Anthony Fauci as he “fact-checked” some of the more outrageous claims made by President Trump over the past couple of months. Other top skits were Kenan Thompson’s classic “What Up With That?” and a bit with Kate McKinnon and her cat playing several parts.

Musical guest Miley Cyrus had a superb version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

These shows cannot be easy to write or put together, but they’ve been a nice respite. Here’s hoping SNL keeps trying it as long as it can’t have normal shows. And if SNL can’t produce new at-home episodes every week, how about pulling out reruns from the 1970s with Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi instead of re-airing programs from this past season?

The most interesting comments from the Sunday morning news shows

  • Dr. Deborah Birx on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another.”
  • Moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation”: “It will be up to the American people to decide when they feel safe enough to emerge, and to make the unthinkable calculation of what an acceptable death rate is … the survival of this democracy may ultimately rest with We the people.”
  • Former Georgia candidate for governor Stacey Abrams on if she would advocate being Joe Biden’s running mate: “As a young black woman growing up in Mississippi, I learned that, if you don’t raise your hand, people won’t see you and they won’t give you attention. … I trust that Joe Biden and his team are going to put together a process that will pick the best running mate for him, because, fundamentally, it’s his choice. What I try to do is tell the truth and be direct. But I understand that there is a process that will be at work, and that he has no shortage of qualified candidates to choose from.”

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

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