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ABC’s Jonathan Karl: Should Networks Cover Trump Coronavirus Briefings Live From Beginning To End?

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PBS NEWSHOUR: President Trump has long had a complicated relationship with the news media. He tends to seek out reporters he deems friendly, while butting heads with those he accuses of treating him unfairly. As ABC News’ chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl has a close-up view of these dynamics, which he describes in his new book, Front Row at the Trump Show. Karl joins Judy Woodruff to discuss. Karl said there are two questions people should have about the White House coronavirus briefings: Should networks air them from start to finish and should White House reporters be covering them. Karl said the second question is easy because reporters ask “important questions” and they combat “disinformation” that has come out of the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS NEWSHOUR: President Trump’s complicated relationship with the press has been on full display for weeks at his administration’s daily coronavirus briefings. He sometimes seeks out reporters he deems friendly, while going toe-to-toe with those he accuses of treating him unfairly. As ABC News’ chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl has a close-up view of this administration, which he writes about in his new book, “Front Row at the Trump Show.” And Jon Karl joins us now. Thank you for joining us on the “NewsHour,” Jon. Let me ask you first to put on your hat as president of the White House Correspondents Association. What do you say to those who look at the briefings and say they have become as much about politics as they have about information? What does that mean as a challenge for reporters? JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: You have daily briefings with the president sometimes speaking for – holding forth for up to two hours with reporters in that room. There clearly has been a political message, as well as a really important public health message. So I think, Judy, there’s really two ways to look at this. One, should these briefings be carried live from beginning to end by the various networks? The second question is, should we, as White House reporters, be covering them? The second question, to me, is a very easy one. We have to be there. We have access to the president. We have access to the vice president, who is the head of the Coronavirus Task Force. We have access to the top public health officials. These are important – we have important questions. I think there is information that comes out of this – out of these briefings that is very important. But let’s face it, there’s a lot of politics here. There has been a lot of disinformation that has come out as well. So it is our duty as reporters and, frankly, as networks to put context and to correct misinformation. And whether or not they’re carried live, I think that’s a legitimate debate that should be held – done in newsrooms at all of the networks. WOODRUFF: Do you have a view about whether they should be carried live, or livestreamed, which is what news organizations do? KARL: It is not simply tracking the ins and outs of politics. This is essential – people want essential information for how to deal with this crisis, how to keep themselves safe, how to keep our families safe. So, you know, I think it’s going to be a pretty tough decision to say no live coverage whatsoever. There’s clearly an appetite. And you can see that with the large numbers of people that are watching these briefings. WOODRUFF: The president, as you know, Jon, has gone after a number of reporters, including our own Yamiche Alcindor. We’re proud of the way she’s conducted herself. What about when he’s gone after you and others? I mean, how should – how should reporters process this? KARL: The president has made some outrageous attacks on her, has responded in strange ways to perfectly legitimate questions by attacking her personally. And I think that what Yamiche has done is what I have done – I have tried to do as well, which is, don’t take the bait. This is not about us and the president. This is about trying to get real information out of this administration, trying to hold the president accountable, trying to ask pertinent questions that people want to know, especially during this time. But I think that the danger here, when he attacks – the reason – one of the reasons why he attacks us, Judy, is because he wants people to see us as his opposition. He has been explicit about this. He has said, the media is the opposition party. So, if he gets people to believe that, then he – as he’s told us, he told Lesley Stahl famously in 2016, they won’t believe – they won’t believe it when you do negative stories about me. So, we have to be careful in responding to not take the bait and not to turn this into a battle between us and the president, because that is not what it is.

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