Vice President Mike Pence’s office is giving an ultimatum to at least one cable news channel that President Donald Trump has frequently belittled as “fake news” — either CNN must show his coronavirus press briefings in full, or the White House won’t allow health experts to appear on their network any longer.
According to CNN, experts who have appeared on their programming in the past and are involved with the White House’s task force on coronavirus are no longer allowed by Pence and his office to speak with the network in on-air interviews.
“When you guys cover the briefings with the health officials, then you can expect them back on your air,” a spokesperson for Pence explained to the network.
There are some difficulties with that ultimatum, however, including the fact that these press briefings can sometimes run for quite a long period of time. According to the White House’s YouTube channel, as of Thursday morning, the average length of the last five coronavirus task force press briefings has been one hour and 44 minutes, with one lasting more than two hours.
CNN has covered the president’s daily remarks by airing the question and answer portion of the press briefings, followed by a panel of experts fact-checking Trump’s words shortly after.
As the head of the coronavirus task force, Pence and his office are able to control its members’ interactions with news outlets.
There has been a considerable amount of debate over the past few weeks as to whether networks should air any of Trump’s press briefings at all, at least in a live setting. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has said that these briefings should be recorded and aired later, allowing journalists to fact-check the president’s words line-by-line, rather than airing them to the public without scrutiny.
Maddow’s argument against live broadcasts of Trump’s statements rely largely on the fact that much of what he says during them is misleading to the American public.
“I feel like we should inoculate ourselves against the harmful impact of these ongoing false promises and false statements by the president by recognizing that when he’s talking about the coronavirus epidemic, more often than not, he is lying,” Maddow said in an episode of her program that aired in mid-March.
“If it were up to me, and it’s not, I would stop putting those briefings on live TV,” she added. “Not out of spite, but because it’s misinformation.”
There are arguments against doing what Maddow advocates, however. As Benjamin Hart of New York Magazine has said, refusing to air the president’s press conferences in real-time could lead to viewers at home having deeper mistrust of the media in general.
“[T]o set up special rules for this president in the midst of an unprecedented crisis does run the risk of further undermining” trust in news agencies, he said. “I’m not saying they shouldn’t, say, fact-check or only air part of the briefings. But it’s not some obvious decision on their parts.”
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