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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House February 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. Psaki held a news briefing to answer questions from the members of the press. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House February 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. Psaki held a news briefing to answer questions from the members of the press. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

With Biden's Jen Psaki at the Podium, Corporate Outlets No Longer Think Briefings Newsworthy

Obama briefings? Not news. Trump briefings? Always news. Biden briefings? Not news again.

Nowadays, corporate media would have you believe they are appalled by Donald Trump: He’s a liar and a cheat who distorted our democracy and was rotten to the press. I mean, they had to cover him because he was president, but they held their nose the whole time, and now they can’t wait to get back to serious reporting on policy.

 

The only trouble is, if you have a memory longer than a minute, you’ll recall that CBS head Les Moonves (Extra!, 4/16) declared flatly that the ad money and ratings Trump brought the network mattered much more than any harm giving him a platform might incur. “It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” Or maybe you remember the time that CNN, Fox and MSNBC (FAIR.org, 3/16/16) all aired an empty podium where Trump was scheduled to speak instead of Bernie Sanders actually speaking.

 

Or maybe you’re just paying attention. As Press Run critic Eric Boehlert (2/22/21) noted recently, just a month into Joe Biden’s term, CNN has unceremoniously stopped airing daily White House press briefings. They didn’t cover Barack Obama’s much; in the last six months of his presidency, just 3% of daily briefings aired live (Media Matters, 5/30/17). But in early 2017, the DC press corps collectively decided that every Trump utterance had to be broadcast live, even if the briefings were “built on deceits [and] designed to foil honest inquiries,” as Boehlert said. Even if he was telling folks to inject themselves with bleach or accusing hospital workers of stealing PPE.

 

After one freakish display, CNN anchor John King (4/13/20) declared, “That was propaganda aired at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room.” But the network just kept on airing them.

 

So the upshot: Obama briefings? Not news. Trump briefings? Always news. Biden briefings? Not news again.

 

Whatever you make of the fact that a news network’s rule of  “Everybody stop what you’re doing, the White House is about to make a statement!” only seemed to hold when they could expect that statement to be akin to a flaming car wreck…just remember that those are the “journalistic” criteria they’re working with all the time.


© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson is Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) program director and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited "The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s" (2019).

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