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Coronavirus: Media pundits call for networks to stop airing Trump's 'misleading' briefings

'If he keeps lying like this every day on stuff this important, all of us should stop broadcasting it. Honestly, it's gonna cost lives'

Phil Thomas
New York
Sunday 22 March 2020 14:21 GMT
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says Trump's briefings should not be broadcast live

High-profile media pundits are calling for broadcasters to stop live coverage of Donald Trump's daily coronavirus briefings – because his statements are so full of misinformation.

The president has made a series of false, misleading or dubious claims about the pandemic, some of which have had to be immediately corrected by health experts such as Dr Anthony Fauci.

Mr Trump has claimed there are plenty of tests available – although there aren't – and hailed the use of an anti-malaria drug to treat Covid-19, although experts insist any hopes for its effectiveness are based on only "anecdotal" evidence. He said Google was about to launch a website that would help people get tests, something the tech giant had to play down.

After weeks of playing down the risks of the coronavirus – at one point saying there were only 15 cases and that they would soon be down to "close to zero" – the president has now claimed that he predicted it would be a pandemic before anyone else.

He has also neglected to follow advice on social distancing, appearing on a stage at the White House every day surrounded by officials. As recently as last week he was continuing to shake hands.

And asked by a journalist what his message would be to Americans who are scared, the president replied: "I say that you're a terrible reporter."

Now several commentators say Mr Trump's efforts to bluster and "happy talk" his way out of the crisis could cost lives.

Writing in the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan says the briefings have taken the place of the president's regular freewheeling campaign rallies, which he has been forced to put on hold during the pandemic.

She argues that rather than treat them as a forum for vital public health advice, Mr Trump is using them for self-aggrandisement and media-bashing characterised by "exaggeration and outright lies".

Sullivan writes: "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."

In the New York Times, Jennifer Senior writes that people should call the president's briefings what they are – "propaganda".

She writes: "We may as well be watching newsreels approved by the Soviet Politburo. We're witnessing the falsification of history in real time. When Donald Trump, under the guise of social distancing, told the White House press corps on Thursday that he ought to get rid of 75 to 80 percent of them – reserving the privilege only for those he liked – it may have been chilling, but it wasn't surprising. He wants to thin out their ranks until there's only Pravda in the room."

Senior contrasts his performances with the factual briefings being given on a regular basis by Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Referring to Mr Trump, she adds: "Only a liar – and a weak man with delusions of competence – would be so unnerved by the facts."

On Friday Rachel Maddow, an MSNBC host, said the White House briefings should be taken off the air because the president's misinformation "could cost lives".

She said: "I know we ought to be getting used to this kind of thing by now, but I'm not. President Trump today, again, just flat-out wrong in public about this malaria drug that has gotten stuck in his mind, quite some distance from the facts.

"If the president does end up saying anything true, you can run it as tape but if he keeps lying like this every day on stuff this important, all of us should stop broadcasting it. Honestly, it's gonna cost lives."

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