CNN chief Jeff Zucker on Monday defended the network’s decision to carry President Donald Trump’s coronavirus press briefings live despite criticism that Trump uses the conferences to spread misinformation during a pandemic.
During an internal employee call, the network head said he has “probably spent more time on this topic than anything else, believe it or not,” and that he gets more calls and emails on the subject than any other topic.
The Daily Beast reported last week that employees at both CNN and MSNBC have begun pushing back against airing the briefings, which some cable staffers described as “open-mic nights” full of “misinformation.” But both networks have continued to broadcast the events.
“We might take it from the top and then cut away after the first lie, and return when the lies stop,” one cable-network producer told The Daily Beast.
According to multiple sources, Zucker argued on the staff call that it is important for viewers to hear critical information from the administration’s public-health experts like Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, and for the CNN audience to hear the president answer tough questions from journalists including the network’s own.
He did note that the network had pondered whether to air portions of the briefings after Trump finishes speaking, but said that he felt comfortable airing the briefings live because of those grillings by reporters.
“It’s a very difficult decision,” Zucker remarked. “As of now, we are going to continue to carry those briefings.”
The network has begun taking some measures to try to push back on the inaccuracies in Trump’s briefings. A number of CNN chyrons during pressers over the weekend included statements calling out misinformation in some of Trump’s claims.
An NBC News insider, noting that the president often makes misstatements during the briefings, told The Daily Beast last week: “I think the best way to handle the president in the briefing is that you handle the president like you handle the virus. He has to be contained and quarantined and his falsehoods have to be scrubbed so that they don’t rub off on you.”
The president himself has complained about networks considering not taking his briefings live. In a series of tweets over the weekend, he ranted against the “lamestream media” by boasting of the high Nielsen ratings his briefings are generating, quoting a New York Times article which showed him rating alongside highly popular television broadcasts like The Bachelor and Monday Night Football.
As a result, the White House has sent mixed signals about the networks carrying Trump’s briefings live.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has pushed networks to carry them, chastising the networks from cutting away from any briefings, saying it was “literally their job to report vital news of the day.” White House spokesperson Judd Deere called cutting away from the press briefing “pretty disgraceful.”
But Trump himself has taunted cable-news networks when they do carry the briefings, claiming last week that CNN didn’t actually want to cover his pressers, but only did so because the “ratings are too high.”