If Trump's daily pandemic press briefings aren't newsworthy events, why does the news media continue to shower them with ceaseless attention?
Nobody is under any obligation to carry the briefings live and in their entirety. That's a choice television news outlets make voluntarily. And everyday they choose to turn on the cameras and allow Trump to ramble, sometimes for two hours as he alternately unravels and misinforms about a public health crisis. Networks are making that choice at the same time more journalists concede the briefings aren't actually news.
"Over time, the news conferences have become increasingly devoid of actual news," ABC News recently conceded, in a report specifically about how Trump is using them not to inform the public, but as a way to maintain a high media profile.
During a briefing this week, an on-screen banner for CNN announced the event had become a "propaganda session." Immediately following, CNN anchor John King admitted, "That was propaganda aired at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room."
So why air it?
And the New York Times this week acknowledged, "The daily evening briefing has largely been turned into a lengthy infomercial starring Mr. Trump, who brags about his administration’s efforts, mocks his critics and berates reporters."
Across the media spectrum there's a growing admission from reporters — not just opinion writers — that the briefings aren't news. So now what? Even Thursday's briefing where Trump was supposed to unveil a grand "re-opening" plan for America post-pandemic was anemically short on details and common sense, as Trump danced around obvious questions posed by reporters.
The criticism over airing the briefings escalated this week when Trump on Monday hosted one of the most unhinged televised performances by a sitting president in the history of the United States. The planned rant, which unfolded for more than an hour, featured a campaign-style commercial that was aired in the briefing room and attacked the media and Trump's critics who have hammered him over the administration's botched handling of the pandemic.
"People have died because of some of the things that Trump has said on television about hydroxychloroquine and stuff like that. And I think the cable television industry has a responsibility for those deaths, not just Trump," stressed former Democratic presidential candidate, and medical physician, Howard Dean this week.
A telltale sign that news executives know they're making the wrong decision? In four weeks I have yet to see a single high-ranking television news executive be quoted on the record explaining why it's paramount to break into programming every day to air Trump's endless whining and lies. This, as a growing chorus of TV news staffers angrily complain about what's happening with the briefings. ("This is absurd.")
Recall that television news executives never explained why, on the day Trump was inaugurated, all the cable news channels completely changed their policy on airing daily White House press briefings in order to placate Trump. Prior to his administration, the briefings were rarely carried live, and almost never in their entirely.
Research from Media Matters for America showed that in the final six months of President Barack Obama’s term, his staff's press briefings were carried just two percent of the time by cable news. During Trump's first four months in office, the briefings were carried 93 percent of time.
There were no blockbuster stories or public crises unfolding back in early 2017. It was simply the D.C. press collectively deciding that every Trump utterance and every one of his administration's briefing had to be carried live, as if it were breaking news, which meant hundreds of hours of free airtime.
While some journalists today concede the briefings are mostly empty in terms of content, others remain misguided about their significance. "It’s absolutely useful,” one unnamed reporter told New York. “People need to hear directly from the president during this and we have to hold him accountable for decisions that he has made so far. What’s just as important as hearing from him is [hearing from] Fauci, Birx, Pence, and that kind of access is critical and I commend them for doing this every day."
That’s simply not happening with the briefings. Instead, Trump often talks over and contradicts what Fauci, Birx and Pence have to say, when he's not picking petty fights with reporters and advertising his own sprawling insecurities.
None of this falls under the umbrella of news.
My kids are now college age, but I've been thinking a lot recently about parents in our pandemic stay-at-home culture who have younger children. I wonder how they're doing, trying to cope with the challenges and stress of having kids around all the time. (That's not normal!)
I've read almost no parenting books over the years, but one title that I've constantly recommended is "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us," By Jean Twenge.
First off, I didn't find the book to be as depressing/upsetting as the title would indicate. To me, it offered all kinds of insights into kids born in the 1990s and 2000's, including all their strengths (tolerance!) and wonderfully unique perspectives. The book also provided incredibly valuable understanding into how teens today function socially via screens and phones, the challenges and stress that produces, and why the teenage years today look so different than teenage years for previous generations. (i.e. Socializing in-person isn’t that important, even before the pandemic.)
I'm probably not doing the book justice here. But it really is a well done, must-read for those who want to know more about what makes today's kids tick.
🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Old Crow Medicine Show, "Nashville Rising"
Right before the pandemic hit here, Nashville got flattened by a deadly series of tornadoes on March 3. The wicked weather event claimed two dozen lives, and did extraordinary damage to East Nashville, known as a key lifeline to Music City's artistic community. In response, Old Crow Medicine Show — you know them from their timeless song "Wagon Wheel," which Darius Rucker turned into a mega-smash on country radio —recorded a new song to raise money and attention to the city's rebuilding effort.
For me, Old Crow is a band that can do no wrong, with their stand-up bass and front-porch approach to traditional American music that also comes with dash of good-time boogie. Here, the band offers a much-needed helping hand:
Now this ain't the first time the hard truth stared our city down
And it won't be the last one that we'll overcome
See how the circle remains unbroken, Lord
See how these trials and tribulations make us strong