The Trump administration’s daily coronavirus briefings have been carried live by Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, as well as the broadcast networks. These briefings have been highly informative, and apparently impressive, as recent polling indicates that a clear majority of Americans approve of President Trump’s handling of the Wuhan virus issue. This caused MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to urge on Friday that television networks stop covering the press conferences because of the President’s “lies.” In other words, the briefings informed Americans about the vigorous actions the administration is taking and thereby hurt Maddow’s political party.
Yesterday’s press briefing was a watershed, as all of the broadcast networks as well as CNN and Maddow’s MSNBC cut away midway through the press conference. (The broadcast networks left the conference earlier than that.) This refusal to make public the administration’s information effort, which refusal presumably will continue, has enraged some on the right. To me, the real question is, what ratings were the press conferences getting? Television networks are ostensibly in business to attract viewers and thereby to draw advertisers, but that goal sometimes conflicts with partisan preference. History shows that CNN, for one, is happy to sacrifice viewers and profitability to pursue a political agenda. So what is going on here? Are CNN and MSNBC motivated by profit, or by politics?
I haven’t seen daily ratings for the press briefings, but this Associated Press story sheds considerable light:
ABC, CBS and NBC all covered Trump at the beginning of Monday’s briefing, which began about 6:10 p.m. Eastern. After 20 minutes, they switched to the network evening newscasts, never to return to Trump. The president spoke until shortly after 8 p.m.
The cable news networks have given Trump blanket coverage for his briefings, but CNN cut away Monday at around 7:20 p.m. MSNBC followed within five minutes.
MSNBC, through a spokesperson, said that “we cut away because the information no longer appeared to be valuable to the important ongoing discussion around public health.”
Really? As opposed to whatever programming followed? But this is the key point:
For the three cable news networks, five Trump briefings last week each had more than double the audience the networks had for the same time period a year earlier, the Nielsen company said.
For example, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC attracted 8.28 million viewers for Trump’s briefing Friday, nearly half of them watching Fox. [Ed.: That ratio is pretty typical of the three cable news networks’ audiences.] The audience for those networks a year earlier was 2.82 million, Nielsen said.
“When people are tuning in in droves to watch a news event, that tells you that they’re interested in it — and you have to pay attention to that,” said Jonathan Klein, a former CNN president.
(Emphasis added.) People are interested and are tuning in? That is a problem, if your goal is to advance a left-wing agenda and not to make a profit for your shareholders. Based on the numbers, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that MSNBC and CNN have cut back on broadcasting the administration’s press conferences because they give viewers a good impression of the administration and thereby hurt the prospects of the Democratic Party, whose interests those networks are dedicated to advancing.