Commentary

Media Drop Numerical Nitpicking of Trump's Coronavirus Briefings

By Tim Graham | April 29, 2020 | 10:01am EDT
President Donald Trump has come under numerous attacks by the media during coronavirus briefings. (Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump has come under numerous attacks by the media during coronavirus briefings. (Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Throughout the Trump era, the media have hated President Donald Trump for both coming and going. They condemned him for not having "formal" press briefings. Now they condemn him for having them.

The Washington Post and The New York Times augmented their aggression on the briefings by doing content analysis of the transcripts. Research by reporters Philip Bump and Ashley Parker of The Post was published Monday under the headline "Trump briefings full of attacks, boasts but little empathy: Analysis shows how much politics dominates daily news conferences."

They analyzed the transcripts of 35 press briefings since March 16 and complained there was too much presidential podium time: Trump has spoken for more than 28 hours, or 60 percent of the total time, more than the vice president or the scientists. And he spoke for 13 hours in the past three weeks. Within the 13 hours, they counted "two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4 1/2 minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims."

This would sound bizarre if it were any other president. Is it odd that a president speaks 60 percent of the time at his press conferences — especially since reporters want to press him the hardest? Would it be unusual for a president to defend himself, or odd that a president would criticize the Other Party?

No one could claim former President Barack Obama didn't boast about himself and his team. Critics used to count how many times he said the word "I" in his speeches. No one was shocked when Obama used press conferences to attack Republicans or Fox News.

What's strange about this project is it doesn't acknowledge how the press drives the briefings. The Post expressed alarm about those "Trump briefings full of attacks" but doesn't acknowledge that a large chunk of those attacks were Trump returning fire from the press! Bump and Parker presented Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Philip Rucker — well, they failed to use his name — merely as an attack victim, not as an attacker.

Rucker co-wrote a book-length attack on Trump sarcastically titled "A Very Stable Genius."

When The Post says "politics dominates" these events, it doesn't admit that politics dominates the questions from "objective" reporters. It complains that these briefings are substitutes for Trump's stadium rallies — as if he gets accused of killing thousands of coronavirus victims at his rallies. The paper's aggression is intensified by its partisan desire to deny Trump the advantage of this TV time.

The New York Times released an online report Sunday in which it "reviewed more than 260,000 words spoken by Trump" since March 9. It, too, found that self-congratulations were common, counting around 600 examples, while Trump displayed "empathy or appeal to national unity" 160 times, only about a quarter of the amount that he praised himself or a member of his team. That doesn't match The Post's empathy count at all, but The Times is making the same negative point.

The Times brought in professor Jennifer Mercieca to complain that Trump is not speaking "the language of transcendence, what we have in common," just touting the "good news" that his presidency is great. "It's not the right time or place to do that," she said. (She has a new Trump book coming out titled "Demagogue for President.")

This is just pitch-perfect. These newspapers really believe the president should never speak positively about his presidency. It's not the right occasion. Can anyone imagine these papers and their chosen experts telling former President Jimmy Carter he couldn't defend himself regarding the Iran hostage crisis during the 1980 presidential campaign? They hate Trump so much, they just want him to stop defending himself and lose miserably in November. Fighting back is impolite.

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.

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