NBC News staffers fire back at Trump, call his attack on reporter 'outrageous' and 'absolutely nuts'

President Trump gets into a heated exchange after NBC reporter Peter Alexander asks him what he wants to say to scared Americans during a coronavirus press briefing.

Posted: Mar 23, 2020 4:21 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2020 4:21 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Outrage inside NBC

Staffers at NBC News are outraged (and a bit confused) after President Trump viciously attacked their network's White House correspondent, Peter Alexander, at Friday's coronavirus briefing. Alexander, if you didn't see, asked Trump what he would say to Americans who are frightened amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of answering, Trump responded by rejecting the question ("nasty"), attacking Alexander ("terrible"), and assailing NBC News' parent company Comcast ("Con-Cast").

The verbal tirade -- which Trump defended after Kaitlan Collins asked whether it was appropriate -- did not go over well with people inside NBC News. "Outrageous," one senior NBC News employee told me of Trump's behavior. "Entirely unprompted. W.H. reporters should ask tough questions and Peter often does, BUT THAT WASN'T EVEN A TOUGH QUESTION."

Other NBC News staffers expressed a similar sentiment. "It's absolutely nuts he was attacked for asking a legitimate question," one NBC News reporter told me. "Extremely bizarre," said another. "It was a totally fair question with an obviously accurate premise. The reaction made no sense." Yet another staffer told me, "It's unsettling when these acts happen, but we continue to do our work."

Andy Lack's statement: "Peter Alexander is an outstanding reporter. His line of questioning at today's White House briefing was fair, straightforward, and necessary..."

"We call this a softball"

Appearing on NBC after the press conference, Alexander explained that he was offering Trump a platform to comfort the American people: "I am sure there are plenty of baseball fans watching right now. In TV terms, we call this a softball. I was trying to provide the president an opportunity to reassure" the public...

King goes further: It's "bullshit"

That's how CNN's John King referred to Trump's unhinged response to Alexander. Many other journalists joined in to back the NBC correspondent.

"Asked to perform one of the key duties of the presidency — to reassure the American public during a crisis — Trump instead attacked," WaPo's Ashley Parker noted.

WHCA prez Jonathan Karl added: "It's outrageous to use the presidential bully pulpit to bully a journalist like Peter — especially at a time like this."

Tapper's message

On his show, Jake Tapper looked straight into the camera and delivered a serious, pointed set of remarks to Trump. Tapper noted that Trump spent months belittling the threat of the virus and "only recently acknowledged the gravity of the crisis." He pointed out that Alexander's question would have been "easy for any other politician."

Tapper's conclusion: "If the president isn't capable of leading stably and effectively he should at least for his own reputation and for the good of the country stop making things worse and consider leaving the podium to others. The Hippocratic Oath -- first do not harm -- that applies to President Trump too."

Meanwhile, Fox's Brit Hume defends...

While practically the entire journalism world rallied around Alexander, Brit Hume defended Trump. "Legitimate question my a**," tweeted Hume. "It was the kind of bullsh*t gotcha question which hack WH reporters have been asking for decades. But instead of going off on the reporter, Trump should have said the whole briefing in all its particulars was a message to people who are scared."

Most importantly: Trump's comments came hours after NBC announced staffer's death

On Friday morning Andy Lack announced that Larry Edgeworth died Thursday after testing positive for Covid-19. Edgeworth was a veteran audio technician. He is survived by his wife Crystal and two sons. Lack said the network is "doing everything we can to support his family during this very difficult time."

Lester Holt's tribute on Friday night: "This crisis -- no, this horror we are going through -- is perhaps too easily reduced into numbers. The number of tests. The numbers of infected. And the number of dead. Allow me a moment to put just one face to the numbers, a face we here at NBC News know well, our colleague and friend Larry Edgeworth. We lost him to this virus last night. Holt called him "a kind and generous man who always made us smile" and said "we are heartbroken..."

Pompeo's words ring hollow

Near the beginning of Friday's briefing, Mike Pompeo implored Americans to "ensure where they turn to for information is [a] reliable source" and "not a bad actor trying to create and flow information that they know is wrong." But his words were undercut by Trump's behavior toward Alexander.

And it was quite rich listening to Pompeo make that statement, when Trump *THE DAY BEFORE* smeared the nation's top three newspapers, and praised a far-right media organization that regularly peddles conspiracy theories on his behalf. If I were Pompeo, I would focus my efforts on the President of the United States...

Sean Spicer returns to briefing room

Former W.H. press secretary Sean Spicer made a surprise appearance Friday in the briefing room. Spicer, who now hosts a Newsmax show, "appeared to become the first former White House press secretary to question the President that they once served from the briefing room," CNN's Betsy Klein and Caroline Kelly reported.

Trump called on Spicer by saying, "Yeah, please, in the back?" Spicer then asked about how the administration will be helping small businesses, to which Trump said he would be "helping them a lot..."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 768624

Reported Deaths: 13993
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1055891807
Lake569801031
Allen43032699
St. Joseph37344568
Hamilton37335426
Elkhart29783470
Tippecanoe23503230
Vanderburgh23240405
Porter19580327
Johnson18843392
Hendricks18089323
Madison13575347
Clark13552198
Vigo12869256
LaPorte12578225
Monroe12575178
Delaware11155198
Howard10693237
Kosciusko9792124
Hancock8761150
Bartholomew8274157
Warrick8084157
Floyd8043182
Grant7378181
Wayne7239201
Boone7211105
Morgan6924143
Marshall6345117
Dubois6283118
Cass6096112
Dearborn602178
Noble600890
Henry5958111
Jackson517277
Shelby511598
Lawrence4928127
Gibson463696
Montgomery459292
DeKalb456785
Clinton456055
Harrison454077
Huntington417882
Whitley416745
Steuben411260
Miami406073
Jasper401655
Knox388691
Putnam385762
Wabash370384
Adams353856
Ripley351971
Jefferson343487
White340154
Daviess3089100
Wells304081
Greene295185
Decatur292693
Fayette286564
Posey282635
Scott281058
LaGrange277772
Clay274949
Washington254637
Randolph247783
Jennings239749
Spencer238731
Fountain235850
Starke229959
Owen222959
Sullivan221643
Fulton208945
Jay203032
Carroll197722
Orange191756
Perry189939
Vermillion181144
Rush177627
Tipton173347
Franklin172535
Parke155916
Pike142534
Blackford138032
Pulaski123748
Newton123336
Benton109715
Brown106243
Crawford105816
Martin92515
Warren87915
Switzerland8378
Union73610
Ohio58411
Unassigned0429

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1125420

Reported Deaths: 20490
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1305631493
Cuyahoga1173952263
Hamilton825481261
Montgomery536581062
Summit489381014
Lucas43799834
Butler40064614
Stark33876939
Lorain26072510
Warren24959312
Mahoning22738613
Lake21482396
Clermont20425261
Delaware19169138
Licking16879227
Trumbull16829492
Fairfield16825207
Medina15880276
Greene15565254
Clark14366308
Portage13450218
Wood13358201
Allen12064245
Richland11748213
Miami11047228
Wayne9275228
Columbiana9216236
Muskingum9144137
Pickaway8755123
Tuscarawas8724255
Marion8716140
Erie8146166
Ashtabula7280179
Hancock7050135
Ross7031165
Geauga6975153
Scioto6726108
Belmont6224179
Lawrence5964104
Union591649
Jefferson5729162
Huron5644122
Sandusky5498130
Darke5448131
Seneca5380128
Washington5373111
Athens527260
Auglaize507787
Mercer491785
Shelby484397
Knox4621113
Madison448066
Ashland446198
Defiance439499
Fulton436875
Putnam4358104
Crawford4120111
Brown410462
Preble3956107
Logan392279
Clinton391466
Ottawa376481
Highland366668
Williams357378
Champaign349860
Guernsey331554
Jackson321954
Perry299050
Morrow294943
Fayette289350
Hardin279665
Henry277467
Coshocton273061
Holmes2726102
Van Wert252365
Gallia251150
Adams250958
Pike244837
Wyandot235557
Hocking222963
Carroll201449
Paulding180142
Meigs151540
Monroe137945
Noble137939
Harrison115438
Morgan111724
Vinton87517
Unassigned04
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