During a national emergency, Trump clings to his television home, Fox News

President Donald Trump inaccurately declared, at a White House coronavirus briefing, that some states do not have "any problem" with the outbreak, minimizing the situation even in the least-affected states. CNN's Daniel Dale sets the record straight.

Posted: Apr 17, 2020 6:11 PM
Updated: Apr 17, 2020 6:11 PM

President Trump's coronavirus task force briefings — or rallies— are an extension of his Fox News presidency. He is making big announcements that garner big banner headlines on TV. He is trying to sound like he's in charge while shifting decisions, and blame, to the states. And he is banking on a lack of fact-checking.

For weeks now, I've been noticing that the Trump White House is holding briefings at a time of day that all but rules out live broadcast network coverage from coast to coast. The result: lower overall ratings.

But Trump has always been a cable guy at heart. He cares most about Fox News and CNN. Which may explain why White House officials react angrily when CNN cuts away from the more overtly political portions of the briefings.

Consider Thursday: The president didn't start speaking until shortly after 6 p.m. ET. East of the Mississippi, most broadcasters were running local news at the time. Of the stations that went live to the White House, most returned to regular programming by 6:30, when nightly newscasts began on ABC, NBC and CBS. In my spot-check, big markets like New York and Chicago and New Orleans and Dallas all ran the nightly news at 6:30 ET/5:30 CT, not Trump's presser.

There are definitely some exceptions to this rule. Fox-affiliated stations, which don't have network newscasts, generally air the briefings for longer periods of time. And there have been some reports of Sinclair-owned stations prioritizing the briefings over regular shows. But by and large, big broadcasters are cutting away. And there's no easy way to account for local viewers in the ratings reports that Trump has touted. That brings me to the next point...

Ratings reality check

About ten million viewers see the White House's early evening briefings via cable news on a typical weekday.

Some days the total is closer to eight million, according to Nielsen's numbers for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. But let's err on the side of generosity and say ten million. The president has repeatedly celebrated these numbers, which he read about in a New York Times story, but I think the story was faulty and the POTUS spin was even faultier -- here's why.

The ratings for the daily briefings are "so high," in Trump's words, because cable news ratings are "so high" all day long, not because he's on. (Read this WSJ story for details.) CNN and Fox are experiencing a big surge all day long because of the crisis. Then there's a modest additional increase when the briefings take place. For example, CNN's audience on Wednesday was 2.2 million before the briefing; 2.4 million during the briefing; and 2.1 million afterward.

See what I mean? Most cable news viewers would be watching regardless.

Now, Trump fans tend to watch Trump on Fox News, so Fox gets a more significant briefing bump. On Wednesday the network had 4.6 million viewers before the briefing; 5.6 million viewers during; and 3.6 million viewers after. (When the briefings last for more than an hour, Fox's viewership begins to dip; it's the same effect that is seen in the bleachers during his rallies.) And MSNBC? Most days, MSNBC's ratings actually decline a bit, in total viewers, during the live coverage of the briefings.

The takeaway: Most people who watch the briefings live on cable news would be watching anyway. If Trump tries to take credit for the ratings bounce again, someone should call him on it...

When will Trump give a not-on-Fox interview?

To the broader point about Trump the cable guy, people in Trump's orbit say he would like to reach as many people as possible, given the public health consequences of this pandemic. But the daily briefing tends to slide back due to the packed nature of his schedule, they say. Briefings scheduled for 5 p.m. often begin closer to 6.

If the president wants to ensure a big broadcast-like audience, he has other options. He could give interviews to the broadcast networks — but he's not. According to Variety's Brian Steinberg, the big three nightly newscasts, often dismissed as dinosaurs, have had a combined audience of about 31 million viewers a night in recent weeks. The PBS "NewsHour" is also way up.

But Trump isn't visiting "World News Tonight" or "Today." Trump hasn't granted a national TV interview to a non-Fox outlet since the end of February, when he talked with Eric Bolling of Sinclair.

In that interview, when he was asked about coronavirus, Trump said "I think it's really going well." He trumpeted his restrictions on travel from China and said: "It turned out to be the right move, and we only have 15 people and they are getting better, and hopefully they're all better soon."

By that time, the disease was already silently spreading in multiple metro areas within the United States.

The president also gave interviews to a handful of local TV stations in February and early March, according to records kept by Factbase. Otherwise, he has stayed exclusively with Fox interviewers since January. He has been interviewed a dozen times on Fox News and Fox Business, most recently by Jeanine Pirro last Saturday.

A list of Trump interviews kept by Mark Knoller of CBS also includes a February phone call to Geraldo Rivera's radio show. The show is not a Fox production, but Rivera is also a Fox personality. Bottom line: The president is staying on Fox, i.e. shoring up his base, and avoiding all other interviewers during this emergency. He's a cable guy, even though he could reach bigger audiences via the broadcast networks.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 116549

Reported Deaths: 3577
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21322766
Lake10566323
Elkhart6623111
St. Joseph6488109
Allen6244203
Hamilton4893109
Vanderburgh365231
Hendricks2741123
Monroe259836
Tippecanoe248313
Johnson2328124
Clark222757
Porter215447
Delaware196062
Cass19509
Vigo183527
Madison167075
LaPorte144440
Floyd137063
Warrick133039
Howard131363
Kosciusko121817
Bartholomew117057
Marshall100724
Boone98146
Dubois97919
Hancock93043
Grant92534
Noble91532
Henry80326
Wayne76114
Jackson7589
Morgan72438
Shelby67429
Daviess67228
Dearborn66428
LaGrange63811
Clinton60214
Harrison58224
Putnam57912
Gibson5225
Knox5179
Lawrence51229
Montgomery51121
White48614
DeKalb48311
Decatur45839
Miami4363
Greene42635
Fayette42213
Jasper3962
Steuben3857
Scott37711
Sullivan33712
Posey3350
Jennings31412
Franklin30925
Clay3015
Ripley2988
Orange28824
Whitley2766
Carroll27513
Wabash2688
Adams2663
Washington2661
Starke2647
Wells2634
Jefferson2483
Spencer2463
Fulton2412
Huntington2363
Tipton22722
Perry21913
Randolph2167
Jay1850
Newton17311
Owen1691
Martin1660
Rush1554
Pike1511
Vermillion1300
Fountain1272
Blackford1193
Pulaski1131
Crawford1070
Brown1043
Parke1002
Benton870
Union790
Ohio787
Switzerland690
Warren401
Unassigned0226

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 150009

Reported Deaths: 4740
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin26872607
Cuyahoga17437656
Hamilton13158315
Montgomery7809163
Lucas7303364
Butler6022111
Summit5304252
Marion309647
Warren308349
Mahoning3065281
Stark2872175
Pickaway265344
Lorain231186
Delaware225920
Fairfield210553
Columbiana193180
Licking192763
Trumbull1888132
Wood186672
Clark179940
Clermont172523
Lake162851
Medina146739
Greene145332
Allen143769
Miami143651
Portage113966
Mercer112218
Erie94347
Tuscarawas93120
Wayne93168
Richland88819
Ross88424
Madison82312
Darke79942
Belmont72127
Geauga72049
Hancock71010
Athens6782
Ashtabula65948
Lawrence65822
Shelby64510
Auglaize6079
Putnam60323
Sandusky57620
Huron5467
Union5382
Scioto5057
Seneca48014
Ottawa46830
Preble43515
Muskingum4103
Holmes3879
Jefferson3364
Henry31414
Logan3123
Champaign3073
Clinton30013
Perry2979
Defiance29211
Brown2882
Knox28415
Washington26023
Jackson2586
Morrow2582
Hardin25513
Fulton2441
Ashland2394
Crawford2386
Coshocton23411
Fayette2316
Highland2303
Wyandot21212
Williams2093
Gallia19113
Pike1910
Meigs17510
Guernsey1698
Hocking1649
Carroll1527
Adams1314
Van Wert1193
Monroe11018
Paulding1100
Harrison633
Morgan470
Vinton473
Noble300
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
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Huntington
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Decatur
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Van Wert
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