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With Trump’s Coronavirus Briefings, An Old Debate Takes On Fresh Urgency

LAST TUESDAY, CNN’s Dana Bash sang Donald Trump’s praises on air after he gave a coronavirus briefing at the White House. “This was remarkable from the president of the United States,” Bash said. “This is an important thing to note and to applaud from an American standpoint, and from a human standpoint—he is being the kind of leader that people need, at least in tone.” Since then, Trump’s tone during briefings has continued to be remarkable. On Thursday, he gleefully took questions from one of his most reliable boosters, One America News Network (“They treat me very nicely,” he said); asked if he was alarmed that “major media players, just to oppose you, are siding with foreign state propaganda, Islamic radicals, and Latin gangs and cartels,” Trump slammed the press, which, he agreed, is “siding with China.” During the same briefing, he touted the potential effectiveness of chloroquine, an antimalarial drug, against the virus; after Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top government health expert, contradicted that the next day, Trump said he both agreed and disagreed with Fauci. “I feel good about it,” he said. “That’s all it is—just a feeling.” Also on Friday, NBC’s Peter Alexander asked Trump what he’d say to Americans who are scared right now. Trump replied, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say.”

Yesterday, we got a double dose of Trump. In addition to the daily briefing—a ritual which, up to now, had literally gathered dustunder this administration—the president and members of his coronavirus task force went on Fox News for a virtual town hallbroadcast live from the White House Rose Garden. Bill Hemmer, who was at the White House, and Harris Faulkner, who patched in from a studio in New York, hosted. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted afterward, Fox counts Hemmer and Faulkner “as members of a supposedly fearless and hard-hitting news division”—and yet they failed to push back as Trump reiterated misleading comparisons between the coronavirus and seasonal flu, suggested that failing to end the economic shutdown could be more dangerous than the virus itself (“You’re going to have suicides by the thousands”), and seemingly used an article from the Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump website, to bash New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has called on Trump to do more to help his ailing state. At one point, Trump said he was hoping to have America “opened up and just raring to go” by Easter. “That would be a great American resurrection,” Hemmer chuckled. Later, Trump repeated the Easter hope at his briefing. Fauci—who has warned Trump not to be complacent about the scale of the problem, and who was back on stage, to general relief, after missing Monday’s briefing—tried his best to temper the president’s obstinacy.

In media circles, the recent briefings have reignited a familiar Trump-era debate: should the networks carry them live? 

Read entire article at Columbia Journalism Review