The president, it is clear, uses the briefings to congratulate himself on a “fantastic” response to the crisis, is delighted with the praises of the officials on the podium, gives mixed signals on the advisability of opening the economy and the churches in time for Easter and if Americans should wear masks, approve as yet unproven claims about hydroxychloroquine, deflect blame for shortages of medical supplies on “incompetent” democratic governors and blast reporters “unpleasant” questions about his administration’s failure to prepare for the pandemic.
While recognizing the civic value of providing citizens with the President’s perspective during a national crisis, several media outlets have recently expressed concern about holding live, unfiltered, contextless and fact-checking briefings. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNBC have stopped sending veteran correspondents. “These days,” said Dean Baquet, editor of The Times, “long sessions” make little news. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC and CBS have deleted the briefings. Citing ” a scheme of false and misleading information“A Seattle-based NPR station followed suit. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowNight Health: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths may be lower than originally forecast | Panel of Homes Warns Federal Stock of Exhausted Medical Supplies | Mnuchin and Schumer in talks over relief deal States fight for equipment in supply chain objected to the broadcast of the sessions, “not out of spite”, but because they “will cost lives”.
I suggest a somewhat different approach. Reputable media should continue to broadcast live, reserving the right to revert to regular programming. They should send journalists to briefings. Following the opening remarks by President Trump and other podium officials (who, alas, are more suited to a reality show than a social distancing), journalists should direct all questions to the experts. Talking with these people will probably be more effective in shedding light on how the coronavirus crisis was, is and will be addressed. Experts are also likely to be more frank about policy inconsistencies and messages within the Task Force and disagreements between the White House and governors, and the questions asked will be more helpful than the questions apparently partisan “gotcha” to a president who controls the microphone.
Questions for Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciWaPo: Trump allegedly asked Fauci if officials could let the coronavirus “invade” a leading American scientist in the UK: “80%” confident that a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready by September Sunday., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and for Dr. Deborah Birx, Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, should include: The peak of coronavirus in the rest of the country as well as New York and New Orleans in the next two weeks? Or will there be roaming hotspots in other cities and rural areas in the coming months? In the latter case, when and how could the guidelines on social isolation be relaxed? Do you expect a second wave of coronavirus in the fall? If so, will the tests mitigate its impact – and will a sufficient number of test kits be ready? Will it take 12 to 18 months to find out if hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19, as President Trump maintains, or will we know by September? Do you share President Trump’s view that the HHS Inspector General’s report documenting hospital shortages was politically motivated?
Questions for the federal government’s medical supply chain manager, Navy Rear Admiral John Polowczyk (or is it FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor; or Peter Navarro, the self-proclaimed expert at the hydroxychloroquine; or Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDemocrats worried about stimulus monitoring as Trump undermines Hillicon Valley watchdogs: state officials are pushing for more election funds | Concerns over coronavirus surveillance increase pressure on privacy bill | Senators warn not to use Zoom | Agencies Request FCC To Revoke China Telecom License For Coronavirus Surveillance Problems, Increasing Pressure To Pass Federal Privacy Law, traveling advertising for the rules of patronage): How many masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators have been shipped to the states from what Mr. Kushner calls “our” stock? How do these figures match the demands of the governors? What supplies were produced and distributed under the Defense Production Act, which Mr. Navarro said the powerful presidents did not need to use? Will the remaining supplies arrive too late?
The airtime and amazing ratings are the oxygen of his fan Donald Trump. They helped him integrate into a “post-truth” political culture in the United States in which experience, expertise and objective reality are distorted by “alternative facts” and appeal to emotion.
White House correspondents, of course, do not and should not have the power to silence a president. But by giving more time to the front of the scene to people who know something – or who should know something – and by asking difficult but relevant questions urgently, they can make coronavirus information sessions good. better than they are now, and maybe, maybe, maybe save lives.
Glenn C. Altschuler is Professor Thomas and Dorothy Litwin of American Studies at Cornell University. He is co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic: the Americans and their politics in the 19th century.