Three years ago, toward the beginning of his presidency, I said that the media should stop giving Trump free access to the airwaves to spew lies and misinformation. But because they were used to proclamations from the White House under previous administrations always being important and pre-vetted, they continued to report his every uttering as if it were news. Oh, sure, they fact-checked him afterwards, but the vast majority of Americans never saw those corrections, and because the media — particularly cable news outlets — carried him live, the garbage he spewed seems weighty, even when it was the opposite.
That’s never been more true than in recent days, when Trump has taken to the White House press room podium to self-aggrandize, pass along invalid information, scold the media, and have sycophants on his team — none more so than Mike Pence — tell him over and over what a great leader he is.
Today in the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan devoted a column to why the networks should stop carrying Trump’s rantings live:
Trump is doing harm and spreading misinformation while working for his own partisan political benefit — a naked attempt to portray himself as a wartime president bravely leading the nation through a tumultuous time, the FDR of the 21st century.
The press — if it defines its purpose as getting truthful, useful, non-harmful information to the public, as opposed to merely juicing its own ratings and profits — must recognize what is happening and adjust accordingly. (And that, granted, is a very big “if.”)
Business as usual simply doesn’t cut it. Minor accommodations, like fact-checking the president’s statements afterward, don’t go nearly far enough to counter the serious damage this man is doing to the public’s well-being.
Radical change is necessary: The cable networks and other news organizations that are taking the president’s briefings as live feeds should stop doing so.
Trump needs media attention like you and I need air. He can’t survive without it. Of course, the right-wing propaganda channels like Fox News will still carry forth his phony messages, but there’s no reason for legitimate outlets to do the same. I’d even go one step further. Every time he insults a reporter from the podium (as he did after NBC’s Peter Alexander asked a softball question on Friday), all of the reporters in the room should stand up and leave. I’m not kidding. If there’s anything of value said by any of the medical professionals on the stage, report that, but don’t spend an ounce of ink or a second of airtime repeating anything Trump says. Let him choke on that.
Incidentally, there’s a report today that Trump sent Kim Jong-Un a letter offering to help North Korea get through the Coronavirus crisis. It’s nice to see he has his priorities in line — offering aid to an enemy nation at a time when millions of Americans could use more help from our federal government. Perhaps Trump doesn’t have our addresses, so he can’t send us similar letters of support.