Accuracy in Media

The mainstream media defended NBC News reporter Peter Alexander, who engaged in a back-and-forth argument with President Donald Trump over his administration’s response to the coronavirus.

Not only did Alexander’s employer criticize Trump’s response, but CNN also came to Alexander’s defense.

Alexander, during a White House press briefing, asked the president, “Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?”

Trump responded, “No, I don’t think so. It may work, it may not work. I feel good about. That’s all it is, it’s a feeling.”

Alexander’s follow-up question led to the exchange, when he asked, “What do you say to Americans who are scared though? I guess, nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”

“I say you’re a terrible reporter,” Trump said. “That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope, and you’re doing sensationalism.”

NBC News headlined the exchange, “Trump, promoting unproven drug treatments, insults NBC reporter at coronavirus briefing.” NBC News Chairman Andy Lack issued a statement defending Alexander, “Peter Alexander is an outstanding reporter. His line of questioning at today’s White House briefing was fair, straightforward, and necessary.” Alexander defended his question and said it was meant to be a “softball” question meant to garner a response of comfort and reassurance from Trump.

CNN wrote, “Trump viciously attacks NBC News reporter in extended rant after being asked for message to Americans worried about coronavirus.” In addition to its editorialized headline, CNN called it an “extraordinary exchange” where the president “viciously attacked” an NBC News reporter over his question. CNN continued the descriptive language and wrote that Trump “ripped into Alexander in response” and that he “proceeded to launch into an extended rant” against Alexander.

Though Trump’s response was antagonistic, NBC News and CNN should recognize that Alexander’s line of questioning had a negative spin to them. Alexander first asked if it was the president’s “impulse” to promote “false hope” by highlighting experimental drugs and his coronavirus response. His question was highly questionable and lacked professionalism because it used “impulse,” a word that has some negative connotation and tone. There are other ways to frame Alexander’s question, such as, “Why are you putting a positive spin on the news?” Instead, Alexander personalized his question to an unprofessional level, which could have elicited Trump’s aggressive response.

Also, Alexander questioned whether Trump pushed “positive spin” despite the news that the administration has tried to stem the coronavirus’ spread. His question ignored the antagonistic history between the media and the Trump administration, which has been ongoing since the 2016 campaign trail. His question acknowledged a politician’s need to create positive spin, but the question ignored some of the progress made since the coronavirus was first diagnosed in the United States.

Some examples are proposing a formal quarantine, highlighting China’s role in the spread of the virus, pointing out America’s over-reliance on Chinese-produced medical supplies and pushing Congress to pass a coronavirus relief bill. Yet the media did not mention any of these positive steps.

Alexander’s question, though legitimate on some levels, was antagonistic and had a negative spin. Though Alexander attempted to coax a reassuring response from Trump, his poor choice of words may have contributed to Trump’s criticism. NBC News and CNN ignored important information that it could have provided as context for its readers, but it neglected to do so.

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