Central to the communicator's job is distributing timely and accurate information. This is especially important for TV news networks, where daily viewership continues to rise, with most people at home and many looking for the latest coronavirus information.
Cable news viewing was up exponentially — 73 percent for the week of March 16, compared to the same week a year ago, according to Comscore. In addition, cable news network viewing rose 40 percent from a month ago and 8 percent from the previous week. The national broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, rose 20 percent year over year.
In the midst of rising ratings, broadcast news in a quandary. As Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan argued this week, "The media must stop live-broadcasting [President] Trump's dangerous, destructive coronavirus briefings."
Similarly, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow told viewers, "If it were up to me — and it's not — I would stop putting those briefings on live TV. Not out of spite, but because it's misinformation. If the president does end up saying anything true, you can run it as tape. All of us should stop broadcasting it, honestly. It's going to cost lives."
The press briefings have offered pertinent information from trusted health advisors, including a man the public has grown to lean on, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. On the other hand, the sessions also have featured factual exaggerations, insults and blame. The president has bashed China, the Obama administration, Democrats and the White House press corps, whom the public depends on to deliver news from the front lines.
According to CNN, through the first two weeks of March the president made 33 false claims regarding COVID-19. Most were related to the availability of testing.
For many in the media, the president's utterances have created concern about distributing dangerous information to the public. Critics point to an Arizona man who died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, a version of the chemical chloroquine used to clean aquariums. His wife was hospitalized. The president touted chloroquine during a press conference as a possible treatment for coronavirus.
Radio Station Says 'No More'
A public radio station in Washington, KUOW, decided it no longer will carry the briefings live. Similarly, "The Daily Beast" reported that staff at CNN and MSNBC "acknowledged that airing Trump’s pressers live and in full likely amplifies the spread of misinformation about the disease and its potential cure."
CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS cut away from the president's coronavirus briefing March 23 after he contradicted medical experts and said it would be great to have America re-open for business and work within a couple of weeks.
Many journalists recognize the briefings' importance. They also acknowledge their networks' responsibility to the American people. CNN and MSNBC acknowledged they have developed kill-switch plans when briefings give way to exaggerated speculation and falsehoods. One cable-network producer told The Daily Beast, “We might take it from the top and then cut away after the first lie, and return when the lies stop.”
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