Fred Kowal: What Not To Cover

Sep 19, 2018

When President Donald Trump began staging his campaign-style rallies soon after he became president, the decision to air those events live was a no-brainer for cable news networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.

Despite growing criticism that the rallies were little more than a window to the absurd, the networks continued airing them in their enterity, claiming they were newsworthy.

CNN reporter Chris Cilliza put it simply and clearly in a March 11 tweet: “Donald Trump is the president of the United States. When he speaks, we cover it. As we should.”

And that’s true, to a point. When a U.S. president speaks, it’s news. Most of the time.

I’d argue that these rallies, which Trump held as a candidate and continued as president, hold little, if any news value. Instead, these made-for-television-news events feed Trump’s immense ego and serve as platforms for him to spew his divisive political rhetoric, spread lies and misinformation, and bash American institutions like the Justice Department and the media itself.

And now, with the most important midterm elections in our nation’s history just months away, allowing Trump unfettered, repeated access to live TV coverage—and his base of supporters—isn’t at all newsworthy. It’s inane. 

Thankfully, the powers that be at MSNBC and CNN have recognized the folly of airing Trump’s rallies live. From April 28 through Aug. 4, Trump spoke at 11 rallies, in places like Michigan, Florida, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

CNN didn’t cover one minute live, according to MediaMatters.com, a progressive media watchdog group. MSNBC aired a total of 8 minutes, 13 seconds. Both networks still air rally clips in later coverage

As for the Fox folks, well that’s a whole different story. Fox News carried every one of the rallies live from start to end, essentially giving Trump 11 hours, 21 minutes and 27 seconds of free airtime. That adds up to more than $20 million in free advertising, according to iQ media, a Pennsylvania-based media monitoring service.

That’s no surprise from a quote-unquote news organization that Esquire Magazine has called “terrifyingly similar” to North Korean state TV. Unfair? Unnecessary? You bet, and then some.

In fact, reporters shouldn’t even show up at Trump rallies. By covering these events, reporters give Trump the attention he craves, and they become easy targets for Trump to lash out at live. At an August rally in Wilkes-Barre, Trump insulted reporters and the media almost two dozen times during his 75 minutes on stage.

In his Aug. 3 column, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank proposes a simple fix: a small pool of reporters should cover the rallies and share their news with the other outlets. Report what’s worth reporting, and let Trump be Trump the rest of the time—without the cameras.

As Milbank says in his column, “let’s not reward this demagoguery with airtime.  I support the First Amendment, and Trump certainly has a right express himself. But this is demagoguery of the worst type when he speaks. It is an insult to the First Amendment, to the presidency, and our great nation. 

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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