CBS News and its dangerously naïve Trump pandemic coverage

Still treating lies as fact

Quick note: Ten days ago I wrote a PRESS RUN column headlined, "To protect America, the press needs to unplug Trump's pandemic misinformation." It urged news outlets to take the radical step of unplugging Trump's dangerously misleading White House briefings because when it comes to providing accurate information about the coronavirus, the press can cover Trump, or cover the truth. It's not possible to cover both.

I'm happy to say that in recent days scores of media commentators are now echoing my point, including Rachel Maddow, along with writers at the Boston Globe, Esquire, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post. All of them are in heated agreement that Trump's briefings actively endanger us, and that in the name of protecting the public they cannot and should not be broadcast unfiltered.

I'm hoping more voices add to this chorus in coming days because it's such an important issue. Thanks for supporting PRESS RUN.

Stay healthy

Be kind.


This is exactly the wrong time for news outlets to be to playing stenographer to Trump, as he lies and misleads a nation in crisis. But too many are, including CBS News, which needs to break from its habit of treating Trump's unsupported and hollow claims as "news."

"President Trump and top administration officials insisted Saturday that they're moving quickly to provide critical supplies to health care workers as they struggle to fight off surging coronavirus cases," CBS News reported over the weekend. "The president said the help is still coming," CBS's Ed O'Keefe announced, stressing that Trump "insisted they're moving quickly to provide medical testing and supplies needed to fight the spread of the coronavirus."

That sounds promising, right? Except Trump and top administration officials have been lying and misleading Americans for weeks on the pandemic, and specifically about the government's slow-footed, incompetent response.

Incredibly, the "CBS Evening News" report included not a single sentence about Trump's weeks-long campaign of misinformation about the government's reaction to the deadly pandemic. Forget about getting up the courage to call out Trump with "lies" headlines, which is crucial right now in this crisis so Americans understand what's unfolding. Here, CBS didn't even acknowledge the obvious — and likely deadly — missteps the White House has made. (Where are the tests? Where are the respirators?)

Days earlier, "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell played the same cheerleader role: "There may be a new hope in the desperate race to find a treatment for coronavirus and it couldn't come soon enough. President Trump says he is slashing red tape ordering the FDA to fast track the use of two drugs for sick patients."

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Trump threw out completely unsubstantiated claims about a so-called miracle drug for coronavirus, and "CBS Evening News" treated it as the day's most important "breaking" news story?

Thankfully, the USA Today editorial board was far more blunt, and accurate, in its assessment with its declaration, headlined, "Dr. Donald Trump peddles snake oil and false hope." The paper added, "If Trump's promises about quick cures cause people to relax their preparedness because they believe that some pill to protect them is right around the corner, it places everyone more at risk."

It's one thing for news outlets to carry Trump's pandemic briefings live and allowing him to lie to the American people nonstop for an hour each day. It's arguably even worse when news organizations such as CBS then take that misinformation and repackage it as truths during their evening newscasts, misleading millions of (older) viewers about the state of the pandemic, and specifically Trump's response to it.

It's additionally irresponsible given that virtually every significant claim Trump has made about coronavirus over the last two weeks as been false.

He's lied about having disbanded the White House's pandemic team, the availability of a coronavirus vaccine, Americans being able to get tested, the U.S. infection rate going down, invoking the Defense Production Act, and the virus being contained. On Friday, he actually said that he hadn't heard anything about there being a shortage of virus tests. And during his briefings last week he suggested that the U.S. could "shut out" the virus and maybe "stop it in its tracks," which is reckless for any official to say, let alone the President of the United States.

Against that backdrop, how does CBS News decide with regards to claims about possible cures, 'Well, let's assume this time Trump is telling the truth'? It's just an example of institutional denial, as major news outlets refuse to grapple with the idea that the nation’s leader is lying his way through a crippling pandemic.

It's just thoroughly irresponsible.

Key point to make: Journalists have largely done an amazing job covering this crisis, often putting themselves in harm's way to do so. But over and over, the weak link in the national coverage continues to be the Trump reporting as reporters, editors, and producers cannot, and will not, find a way to be honest about Trump and his dangerous, radical behavior. Even as that behavior directly threatens the lives of Americans.

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I wish the target of this scathing Miami Herald editorial was Trump, because this is precisely how the press should be covering him: "Coronavirus is killing us in Florida, Gov. DeSantis. Act like you give a damn." That's the headline, and it only gets better.


Stephen Bishop, “On and On”

At the top of the list of things that the pandemic cancelled and that didn’t really matter that much was the Yacht Rock Review show I was supposed to go to over the weekend. Yacht Rock is a tongue-in-check genre of 70s and 80s soft rock hits that somehow sound pretty good these days. Think: Guilty pleasure. And think: Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, Fleetwood Mac, etc.

SiriusXM hosts a Yacht Rock channel that, for me at least, always offers an automatic mood adjustment. At the forefront of this fun is the Yacht Rock Review, a wonderfully clever cover band that exudes that smooth '70s and '80s style, and whose live shows offers up a boozy, two-hour round trip to nowhere — in the best sense. Catch them if you can. And bring your sailor's cap.

Here's a groovy Yacht Rock staple, try not to sway along.

Poor ol' Jimmy sits alone in the moonlight
Saw his woman kiss another man
So he takes a ladder
Steals the stars from the sky
Puts on Sinatra and starts to cry