NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen is one of the sharpest media critics we have. He published a piece at PressThink yesterday that should be printed out and nailed to the door of every media outlet in the country, in my opinion. Here’s a link to the piece, which I urge you to read in its entirety.
It’s in the form of an editor’s note that every media outlet should publish and abide by in this emergency situation. The emergency Rosen addresses isn’t the pandemic. It’s the fact that the chief source of dangerous lies about the virus is the president of the United States.
Rosen argues that it is therefore not just irresponsible but deadly to the citizens journalists are supposed to inform to amplify Trump’s constant stream of self-serving lies. He’s right. Here’s an excerpt:
Even this far into his term, it is still a bit of a shock to be reminded that the single most potent force for misinforming the American public is the current president of the United States. For three years this has been a massive — and unsolved — problem for the country and its political leadership.
But now it is life and death. On everything that involves the coronavirus crisis Donald Trump’s public statements have been unreliable. And that is why today we announce that we are shifting our coverage of the President to an emergency setting…
Refusing to go with live coverage. Suspending normal relations with his White House. Always asking: is this something we should amplify? A focus on what he’s doing, not on what he’s saying. The truth sandwich when we feel we have to highlight his false claims. This is what you can expect now that our coverage has been switched to an emergency setting.
Media organizations almost certainly won’t take Rosen up on this proposal. Most have failed in critical ways to adjust their coverage to accommodate a pathological liar in the White House, and even the outlets I consider mostly good on the Trump beat fuck up on a maddeningly routine basis. But Rosen is absolutely correct: this is an emergency, and lives are at stake.
A hollow man with a howling void where his soul should be, Trump used to feed off the energy of his hate rallies, ginning up anger with lies and then sucking up the rage and adulation like a narcissistic vampire. That avenue is foreclosed to him now, and I think he’s found a substitute with these daily briefings.
He lies constantly at the briefings about really important shit like the availability of ventilators and protection equipment and the progress toward treatments and vaccines. The networks carry it live, and it may be working:
JUST IN: 55% of Americans approve of Pres. Trump’s management of the coronavirus crisis, compared to 43% who disapprove, according to new @ABC News/Ipsos poll. https://t.co/oNg6ZipDN2 pic.twitter.com/yVcGO0CpbD
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 20, 2020
I don’t think that number will hold up once the death toll rises and the enormity of the gap between what Trump says and what transpires becomes undeniable to all but the cultists, but it’s alarming. Trump has bungled this crisis, loudly and in public, over and over.
Mainstream media outlets are pointing out that Trump has changed his tune on the virus, and that’s a good thing. But they must stop letting him lie on live TV and amplifying the false statements in headlines, alerts and tweets — or more people will die. Like Rosen said, this is an emergency, and it requires new rules.