Last week during a White House briefing on the coronavirus epidemic, President Trump engaged in a distracting exchange with a reporter from the far-right news outlet One America News Network (OAN).
What was an opportunity for responsible journalists to press the President on the federal government’s response and new developments regarding important antiviral therapies, turned into an opportunity for OAN’s Chanel Rion and the President to take cheap shots at responsible media outlets, repeat offensive racial stereotypes and proselytize about the administration.
Shame on you Chanel Rion. You are not the kind of messenger the public needs in the middle of this crisis.
Just a day after this exchange, President Trump verbally tore into NBC News White House Correspondent Peter Alexander after Alexander responsibly asked the country’s leader “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”
Apparently without considering the impact of his words as the leader of the country, the President responded by calling out Alexander as a terrible reporter, calling out NBC and “Concast” as sensational and declaring that asking a question like that is a bad signal for the American people.
Mr. President, news conferences meant to communicate important updates are not substitutes for rallies in an election year.
Right now, Americans desperately need clear and factual information to make life and death decisions. The system fails us when people like Rion and the President chose to prioritize a political agenda.
As the leader of the country’s largest association of broadcast and digital journalists and as a long-time journalist myself, I want Americans to know Rion’s bad behavior is not an accurate reflection of the work hundreds of local journalists are doing right now to serve and protect them. And Alexander’s question was intended to give Mr. Trump a chance to calm a nation in desperate need of some degree of solace.
Responsible journalists across the country are working around the clock with one purpose in mind – facilitating public health and safety. They are seeking reliable sources to provide accurate health information. They are pressing state and local governments on their response to the coronavirus. They are passing along crucial public alerts and official communications in order to facilitate preparedness and combat panic.
We have seen countless examples of journalists on the front lines of this crisis pulling together to facilitate public information even when staffing and resources are disrupted by exposure to this virus.
In New York, CBS News made the responsible choice to close their entire broadcast center after several employees tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, local affiliate WCBS was displaced from its studio and operations center. Instead of giving up, the WCBS team has been anchoring the news from the sidewalk and partnering with KCBS in Los Angeles who is providing additional staff and technical direction.
With so much mis- and disinformation in the public domain, KXLY in Spokane is taking extra measures to explain the decisions they are making related to coronavirus coverage and providing the public examples of the guidance they follow to ensure accurate information and vet reputable sources.
CBS’s Steve Hartman is joining many other reporters to expand their efforts supporting communities by providing lessons for students.
Countless other news organizations, network and local, are doing everything they can to help communities and the nation get the facts – facts – necessary to help fight this war on COVID-19.
There are countless examples of news organizations collaborating to share stories, tips and knowledge about this new virus because supporting one another rather than competing to break a story is the right decision for the public in a life and death situation.
Right now journalists on the front lines are performing an essential job. I have the utmost confidence they will continue to seek and report the truth as this crisis continues because they are the public too. They have families, co-workers and communities they care deeply about. And they are weighing the decisions they make in reporting carefully because the lives of those they care about depend on it too.
Have faith, America. There are a multitude of responsible journalists out there working on your behalf. And we will not tolerate those who give in to distraction and partisanship.