“More and more each day, President Trump is using his daily briefings as a substitute for the campaign rallies that have been forced into extinction by the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Sullivan began her column on Saturday. “These White House sessions — ostensibly meant to give the public critical and truthful information about this frightening crisis — are in fact working against that end.”
Sullivan listed Trump’s “self-aggrandizement,” “media-bashing” and “exaggeration and outright lies” as things she insists Americans are getting from the White House briefings instead of the “life-or-death information” they need.
“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,” Sullivan wrote. “The press — if it defines its purpose as getting truthful, useful, non-harmful information to the public, as opposed to merely juicing its own ratings and profits — must recognize what is happening and adjust accordingly.”
“Business as usual simply doesn’t cut it. Minor accommodations, like fact-checking the president’s statements afterward, don’t go nearly far enough to counter the serious damage this man is doing to the public’s well-being.”
The media columnist, whose newspaper’s Trump-era motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” called for “radical change,” meaning news organizations that have been carrying the president’s briefings live “should stop doing so.”
“Should they cover the news that’s produced in them? Of course. Thoroughly and relentlessly — with context and fact-checking built in to every step and at every stage,” Sullivan explained. “But Trump has proved, time after time, that he doesn’t care about truth, that he puts his financial and political self-interest above that of the public, and that he has no understanding of the role of the press in a democracy. And now lives are on the line.”
She continued: “The news media, at this dangerous and unprecedented moment in world history, must put the highest priority on getting truthful information to the public. Taking Trump’s press conferences as a live feed works against that core purpose.”
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow made a similar argument on Friday night, saying Trump uses the briefings to spread “misinformation.”
“If it were up to me, and it’s not, I would stop putting those briefings on live TV. Not out of spite but because it’s misinformation. 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,” Maddow told viewers.