The President’s Daily Coronavirus Briefings–What Do You Think the Press Should Do? My Reassessment

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I am hoping that recent events will make the reason for this post irrelevant. But I have my doubts. Despite efforts by his staff to persuade him to limit his appearances at daily press briefings, this President does not seem capable of surrendering the limelight.

In my April 8 post on this topic, I expressed some ambivalence about the idea that the press should no longer cover these briefings live at all.

It was never my belief that they needed to show the two-plus hour nightly events in their soul-sapping entirety, but I also wondered whether disbanding live coverage completely might be a bad precedent.

The approach that some were following seemed to be a good compromise: airing a portion and then cutting away, rather than dropping long-held norms just because he was slashing and burning them.

On Friday, I heard Eli Stokols, a White House reporter for the Los Angeles Times, say that covering this President raises profound problems for the press and is in fact, the central issue for them at this point.

I can imagine that most, if not all, members of the Fourth Estate are struggling to determine how to do their jobs when faced with the double whammy of a pandemic that requires them to deliver timely information to the public—and a President who lies, contradicts himself, insults them, and seems to care not one whit about anyone or anything but himself.

And then, as you know, this President offhandedly suggested that the scientists should look into the question of whether drinking or injecting disinfectants could be a possible treatment for the coronavirus.

For me, that was a moment of clarity.

He faced others on the podium as he raised what he apparently thought was a clever idea, and his scientific adviser, Dr. Deborah Birx, to her discredit, remained silent, eventually mumbling “not a treatment.” She wilted.

Stokols and his colleagues at the LA Times reacted with some thoughtful reporting and observations:

“A slew of federal and state agencies — and the makers of laundry bleach — issued an implicit rebuke to President Trump on Friday, warning the public that his off-the-cuff medical advice and off-the-wall musings in nightly White House briefings could endanger even more lives as the country’s coronavirus death toll passed 50,000…

“Trump’s inclination to view his rhetoric as fungible — his comments are often intentionally open-ended and then open to ex post facto dismissals — reflects a lifelong effort by a highly public figure to blur context and avoid consequences for his comments and actions.”

“Trump’s shifting and often self-contradictory comments are not a bug but a feature of his nightly briefings, where, even amid a profound national crisis and widespread anxiety, questions and specifics typically drown in a sea of self-lavished superlatives.

“Last week, he managed to flip-flop three times on how quickly to lift stay-at-home orders, first insisting that he had “total” authority to order states to reopen, then telling governors that they, not he, had that authority, and then urging citizens to protest decisions by the governors and “liberate” their states.

“When pressed Thursday as to why he continued to float untested and potentially dangerous remedies from the presidential podium, Trump lashed out at the reporter who questioned him.
“I’m the president and you’re fake news,” he said. “I’m just here to present talent. I’m here to present ideas, because we want ideas to get rid of this thing. And if heat is good and if sunlight is good, that’s a great thing as far as I’m concerned.”

The next day, the President falsely claimed that he was sarcastically responding to a hostile press query.

In the meantime, while all responsible parties have been trying to contain the pandemic, protect the public, and find scientifically sound ways to consider when it’s safe to lift the quarantine,  Trump’s suggestion that internal disinfectants were worth considering caused consternation and warnings from many quarters.

So many people spent so much valuable time that should have been devoted to more worthy efforts as this gargantuan threat persists.

Those who raced to address this obvious danger ranged from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to the US Surgeon General to the American Chemistry Council to the makers of Chlorox and Lysol, among others.

And former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, exerting leadership from his basement, tweeted:

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t drink bleach.”

Lest you think that Americans wouldn’t be foolish enough to consider such a ridiculous idea, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency reported that its emergency hotline received more than 100 inquiries about whether the injection or ingestion of disinfectants could be a cure for COVID-19.

Reading that, the noted Constitutional scholar Lawrence Tribe tweeted:

“What worries me is how many DIDN’T call but just tried Trump’s insane experiment on themselves or their kids.”

On April 24, Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted:

“A week ago I asked whether it was responsible to carry Trump’s nightly stream of consciousness on live TV.

Today, he suggested drinking or injecting disinfectants or ‘sunlight’ to kill the virus.

So I will ask again: What value is there to this spectacle?”

There’s no longer any doubt in my mind. I fully agree with Adam Schiff. We have a President who is hazardous to our health. He needs to be quarantined—his every word fact-checked and accurately reported.

And it’s just as important that the press and cable TV programs stop allowing him to control the narrative. The public needs information.

That’s why they listen so intently when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks—or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan—or the mayors who have been thrown in disarray when the governors of their states have precipitously decided to disregard scientific caution and remove the quarantines.

We’re not getting information from these press conferences. We’re getting bad theater, farce-turned-deadly.

As many have pointed out, his wacky schemes often serve as a distraction: reporters must follow the story and not ask their questions about the climbing and undoubtedly underreported incidence of infection and death and—his protestations notwithstanding—the lack of adequate testing, largely because he refuses to exert power when he really must.

Here’s a possible example of what might have been reported immediately after Trump made his bizarre recommendation.

“President Trump suggested today that ingesting or injecting disinfectants might be a treatment for coronavirus. This is a dangerous suggestion that could prove lethal, as the makers of Chlorox and Lysol rushed to emphasize. We regret to report that you will endanger your health and possibly lose your life if you listen to the President.

“And now, here’s a report on the impact of the lifting of regulations to prevent water pollution in neighboring communities…” or “Here’s the latest on President Trump’s pressuring the United Kingdom to bail out his failing golf course in Scotland….” or “What will the implications be from the President’s recent temporary Executive Order halting the issuance of many new green cards?”

With his poll numbers plummeting, his staff is reportedly engaged in an effort to persuade him to shorten these dreadful marathons. That is, at least, a start. But we’ll see if they’re successful, and if so, for how long.

He’s not suitable for prime time.

Annie

33 thoughts on “The President’s Daily Coronavirus Briefings–What Do You Think the Press Should Do? My Reassessment

    1. I would suggest that the reporters direct any issues that are medically or scientifically related directly to the professionals rather than to trump. Also, any time he demeans a reporter who is asking trump a question pertinent to the issues at hand, the entire contingent present should walk out on him. He revels in confrontation; don’t give him the opportunity to perform for his base. Since his intent is to embarrass the reporter, they should turn the tables on him. Best way to deal with a bully.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree with the principle of “walking out” but I doubt very much their news media bosses would approve. Besides, Trump would blast his anger all over Twitter world and his followers would have just one more reason to believe he’s “the man.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. He will, inevitably, shut them down. But I agree the press should collaborate on their responses since he’s an equal-opportunity bully. Here’s an interesting Op-Ed by former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, which I guess must be copied and pasted.

        https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjp9uOA7YvpAhVnc98KHUY0Cr0QFjAAegQIARAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2020%2F04%2F26%2Fopinions%2Fwhite-house-briefings-journalists-trump-lockhart%2Findex.html&usg=AOvVaw2uFaXZ1MZA2ZsdF_KdXw8g

        Like

      3. Yes; if I had seen it before posting my piece, I would have incorporated some of the ideas.
        A small point, Nan, but the writer, Joe Lockhart, is a guy. The woman you see is trump’s awful newest press secretary.

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  1. He’s dangerous. And ignorant, unwilling to learn, narcissistic, insulting . . . And frankly, Annie — where are the psychiatrists? Where is the WH physician on this man’s psychiatric state? I’m sure saw the SNL Brad Pitt impersonating Anthony Fauci followed by his heartfelt thank you to the man? We need more that — thank you to the truth-tellers, and could the liars and narcissists and all their flunkies get off the air, please?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well, I wouldn’t count on anyone from the White House medical staff being a truth-teller. The perversion of scientists has been among the scariest things. Paul Krugman tweeted that he sees Trump’s disinfectants remark as the end of his presidency, likening it to Bush’s “Brownie, you’ve done a heckuva job” comment during the devastation of Katrina. Krugman has often been right over the years when others took opposing views. I sure hope this is one time he’s in the vanguard. It can’t happen soon enough.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I must admit that I haven’t watched any leaders full briefings in several weeks, but from the snippets I’ve seen Andrew Cuomo seems informed and decisive, and expresses some thanks and empathy. Perhaps they should just run his briefings instead.

    Or possibly they could find some other countries whose leaders talk sensibly, and subsitute their briefings which may be a good way for you to catch up on what’s happening in other countries as well. I think Trudeau is still doing one daily, and to pick up on your last blog post maybe bring in Merckel, Ardern and Marin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that idea, Doug! I especially would enjoy seeing the press focus on Merkel, whom trump has insulted and ridiculed.
      And I’m very pleased to know you’re reading my posts. Thank you!

      Like

  3. Your last statement says it all Annie. I read another journalists comment this week, but can’t remember where, which said his press conferences “were like insanity unspooling in front of us.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you that those press conferences fail to achieve their primary purpose – to provide information to the public. I suppose the counter argument would be that they still allow the press to ask questions of power, in however limited a format. Admittedly a small fillip given Trump’s tendency to override questions that he doesn’t like. Grim, grim times. Another really inciteful article, Annie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Matthew. I don’t think one precludes the other—though it might. The press can and should still ask their questions—assuming he’ll answer; there were no press conferences when he could perform at his rallies. But the broadcast media needn’t show them—except selected portions that are truly news.

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  5. A few ideas. In times like this we do need the president to stand up and give the people straight talk. It should combine real statistical data and some realistic positive spin. “Here we are, we need to do this, hopefully in the future we will be able to do this.”
    And the press needs to do its job. Yes, the press should always call out any leader and demand straight answers. If the leader does not like it, too bad. That is why we have a free press.
    I do not think Mr Trump is ABLE to be the president we need. I have said this before and at the possibility of beating a dead horse I will say it again.
    The man is mentally ill. Not just narcissistic or ignorant, which many leaders are. He has shown himself unable to grasp reality outside of his own body. Even conmen can PRETEND to care, he does not even do that. His mental illness makes him UNABLE to perform the functions of office needed in this real crisis. He simply cannot do the job.
    Now, we have anticipated Donald Trump in the US Constitution. It is the 25th amendment. This allows the president himself or the cabinet to declare him temporarily unfit to serve. He obviously has diminished capacity. If any president needs to be set aside, temporarily or permanently, it is Mr Trump.
    Of course,since he has packed his cabinet with inferior beings and sycophants they are not likely to take the necessary action.So Congress should step up and do so. Congress can and should convene a committee to discuss and evaluate, along with mental health experts, the president’s ability to function. And remove him from office, temporarily. This is not the same as an impeachment. He would not be charged with a crime. The removal would be temporary, until such time as he is deemed fit to resume his duties.
    I realize it would be difficult to get the Senate to go along, but as the GOP faces a possible catastrophe in the polls, they may prefer VP Pence taking over for now. The 25th amendment was put in for a reason. Donald Trump is that reason…….

    “….Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President….”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I fully agree with your assessment, Joseph. But I see almost zero chance that Republican legislators will go along—unless their major donors turn away and the polls consistently show him below 40%. Even then, they’re still transforming the judiciary and watching the money intended for small business people go to the big guys. They’ve sold out big time, and there’s been no peep as Trump’s done the equivalent of shooting 55,000 people—and counting—on Fifth Avenue.

    Liked by 1 person

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