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How to fix the White House press briefings

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CNN's Jim Acosta pressed both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on implementing a testing system throughout the US before fully reopening the country. See the difference in their responses.

Posted: Apr 10, 2020 5:51 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2020 5:51 PM

There has been much debate about whether television and cable networks should air the entirety of the president's press briefings live. A president updating the American people during a global crisis is certainly newsworthy. But many argue that giving President Donald Trump an unchecked platform to spout false information is irresponsible.

This debate, in my opinion, presents the wrong question. Instead of asking whether the briefings should be aired, we should be asking how they can be improved. We are in a national crisis and we only have one president. It's hard to make the case that his words are not relevant amid wall-to-wall coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic. What needs to change is the briefings themselves.

First, get them out of the briefing room. Some 20 years ago, I approached President Bill Clinton with the idea of renaming the room after former White House press secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head and permanently disabled in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Jim "the Bear" Brady represented the best in America, and that room has special meaning, not only to the Brady family and reporters, but to all Americans who received some of the most significant news in their lives from that room. The so-called "briefings" make a mockery of Jim Brady's contribution to his country and the importance of a free and fair press in our society.

And it's not just the symbolic affront to the Brady's legacy. While Trump has failed to adhere to CDC guidelines to stay six feet apart from others, he has benefited from the new White House Correspondents Association rules that restrict the number of journalists who can attend the briefings on any given day. The briefings are now covered by a rotating pool of reporters, instead of the entire White House press corps as a precaution against the virus.

The pool includes reporters from several wire services, who file stories for thousands of other news organization subscribers. The reporters for the wire services are often looking to file a number of shorter stories to satisfy their clients, so that dictates their questions. Bloomberg News, for example, frequently asks about oil prices. It may not be a pressing kitchen table issue for millions of Americans, but it's what its clients are interested in.

That leaves only about half a dozen reporters to represent the entire press corps. And most importantly, there is never a single science reporter in that room -- we need journalists who have the expertise to challenge either the medical experts or the President when he's playing pharmacist-in-chief.

There is an extraordinarily easy fix. Move the briefing to a much larger room to allow the entire press corps -- along with science or medical reporters -- to participate while adhering to the rules of social distancing. Imagine how much more we could get out of this with Dr. Sanjay Gupta pressing Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx on the medical and scientific assumptions in our public response. Or how much more informed the public would be if investigative reporters from ProPublica and other major organizations were allowed to grill the administration's response and combat the propaganda that so often dominates these sessions.

Trump could be sold on the idea if he believed he were performing on a bigger stage with bigger ratings. More importantly, the public would be better informed, with a clearer sense of what the administration is doing right and wrong.

In the meantime, it seems unlikely the White House will introduce major changes, and I expect television networks will continue broadcasting the press briefings until we see the other side of this crisis. A few modest changes might make it more beneficial to the public. Television news is no longer one dimensional, with graphics and chyrons often telling a different story than the one on screen. You can simultaneously watch a news story, see sports headlines and what's happening in the markets on the same screen.

Imagine how much richer these White House briefings would be if experts provided a running commentary that could be incorporated on screen. This would be a simple as saying, "The president's assertion is correct," providing additional context to the dizzying array of numbers that get thrown around, or fact-checking the president and pointing out the falsehoods.

My guess is this can be done in near real time. If it can't, delay the president's event by a minute or two and get a head start on providing context. The very nature of live TV is a bargain between the broadcaster and the President. If the president can't live up to his end of the bargain by telling the truth, then delaying him is both an appropriate step and no loss to the American people.

I've outlined a few simple steps that would make the White House press briefings much more meaningful to the American public than the somewhat maddening partisan exercise it is now. It would be great if the president thought enough of the American public to make a few changes, even if it's just the location of the room. If not, I believe broadcasters owe it to the public to make a few adjustments to more accurately and fairly cover what the president is doing.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 701971

Reported Deaths: 13187
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion958051716
Lake51105939
Allen38867670
Hamilton34212404
St. Joseph33638539
Elkhart27021431
Vanderburgh22016393
Tippecanoe21602212
Johnson17408373
Porter17157297
Hendricks16711310
Clark12640190
Madison12287337
Vigo12139244
Monroe11336166
LaPorte10760204
Delaware10288184
Howard9606211
Kosciusko9051113
Hancock7922139
Bartholomew7839153
Warrick7671155
Floyd7533176
Wayne6871198
Grant6755168
Boone6517100
Morgan6362138
Dubois6068117
Marshall5743108
Dearborn566975
Cass5668102
Henry5558100
Noble536983
Jackson491869
Shelby476895
Lawrence4324118
Gibson426889
Harrison426070
Montgomery416286
Clinton415053
DeKalb405483
Huntington376480
Whitley374939
Miami371365
Knox364889
Steuben361357
Putnam351760
Wabash345877
Jasper344846
Adams337652
Ripley333268
Jefferson310779
White307154
Daviess288699
Wells284780
Decatur278592
Fayette276962
Greene269985
Posey268133
Scott259853
Clay252044
LaGrange250970
Randolph234380
Washington230329
Spencer227431
Jennings224447
Fountain207445
Sullivan207342
Starke201152
Owen191456
Fulton190439
Jay185529
Carroll185220
Perry179136
Orange176253
Rush170224
Vermillion165643
Franklin165135
Tipton160843
Parke143716
Blackford132631
Pike130034
Pulaski112945
Newton102834
Brown99340
Crawford96914
Benton95613
Martin82215
Warren78715
Switzerland7698
Union69510
Ohio55511
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1045945

Reported Deaths: 18917
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1214131352
Cuyahoga1060882061
Hamilton778281165
Montgomery49815988
Summit45000907
Lucas39675760
Butler37582568
Stark31296894
Lorain24038472
Warren23805291
Mahoning20777583
Lake19885362
Clermont19387228
Delaware17933130
Licking16066206
Fairfield15618196
Trumbull15500459
Medina14787259
Greene14593236
Clark13542288
Wood12664184
Portage12277194
Allen11281229
Richland11001198
Miami10500212
Muskingum8676127
Wayne8523209
Columbiana8515226
Pickaway8414120
Tuscarawas8347239
Marion8342135
Erie7509153
Ross6687145
Hancock6666123
Geauga6520146
Ashtabula6436164
Scioto6271100
Belmont5578158
Union555147
Lawrence5454102
Jefferson5271147
Huron5265113
Darke5256121
Sandusky5158119
Seneca5084118
Washington5056107
Athens497454
Auglaize473984
Mercer470084
Shelby454689
Knox4363108
Madison420458
Putnam419398
Ashland411586
Fulton406266
Defiance399496
Brown384855
Crawford3848100
Logan371976
Preble369298
Clinton359359
Ottawa354278
Highland345759
Williams321674
Champaign317856
Jackson306151
Guernsey305348
Perry289249
Fayette276748
Morrow274139
Henry262866
Hardin262663
Coshocton257857
Holmes252399
Van Wert238562
Gallia232946
Pike232331
Adams227152
Wyandot225553
Hocking208458
Carroll188547
Paulding168238
Meigs141138
Noble132537
Monroe128741
Morgan106423
Harrison104936
Vinton81314
Unassigned02
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