Op-Ed: It Was All Over When They Asked Trump How Many COVID Deaths Were Acceptable


As a journalist, it’s OK to set personal goals in the name of doing a better job.

You strive to break the story that no one else can. You work hard to investigate, find an angle and inform.

And, just as important, you relentlessly push to get the interview that no one else can land. You cherish the opportunity to ask questions of the newsmakers, prominent names and relevant people.

A White House media briefing has all of those elements; and for journalists, being able to land a seat in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room is the pinnacle of many careers.

Yet it astounds me that so many of the reporters lucky enough to participate in a briefing and ask questions of White House officials, or even President Donald Trump himself, squander the opportunity. Rather than ask questions with the intention of informing the public, some mainstream media reporters quiz the president just hoping to get a reaction.

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Remember the exchange in the Rose Garden on May 11 between Trump and CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang? After recounting Trump’s statement that the U.S. is doing far better than other countries when it comes to COVID-19 testing, Jiang followed it up by asking, “Why does that matter?”

Why doesn’t it?

After a brief but testy exchange during which another reporter attempted to join in, a frustrated Trump sensed the briefing was spiraling out of control and promptly left. In the end, Jiang got a reaction that made news, but her question did nothing to inform the public.

One of the basic rules of journalism is to always go to the source. For example, if you’re writing a story about a planned strike at a factory, you want to question union leadership. A story about a local mayoral race? Talk to the candidates. An article on agriculture? Find a farmer.

Do you think the media are just out to get President Trump with "gotcha" questions?

And if you’re penning a story about a policy decision made by Trump, it would seem prudent to do whatever it takes to talk to the man himself.

Granted, gaining access to a White House media briefing and being able to ask questions directly to the president or administration officials isn’t easy, regardless of the administration. But it’s the best way to obtain factual, accurate information that can be passed along to the public in the form of a substantive news story.

That’s why it amazes me that so many reporters at White House briefings waste the opportunity with silly, irrelevant “gotcha” questions. Rather than inquire about topics that are relevant to readers and viewers, all too often reporters at Trump’s briefings use the occasion to grandstand, promote themselves or simply bait the president with nonsensical questions.

And when it comes to journalists covering Trump, there are plenty of examples.

On March 25, as concerns over COVID-19 were escalating and many states implemented lockdowns, the media gathered at the White House for a briefing from the president’s task force. It was a chance to ask some important questions and obtain valuable information during a period of great uncertainty.

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If there was ever a time the general public needed the media to ask the right questions about the pandemic, it was then.

So what did one reporter ask Trump?

“How many deaths are acceptable?”

Consider that reporters in the room had the chance to question not only Trump but a panel of experts as well, and this was the best that one journalist could muster?

Trump himself appeared taken aback by the question and quickly answered “none.” It was an obvious answer for a dumb question.

For as ridiculous as the question was, reporters continued to turn future media briefings into a circus.

Fast forward to August, and the insanity from the press corps was still going strong.

On Aug. 10, a shooting outside of the White House grounds interrupted Trump’s press briefing, forcing him to briefly leave the room.

Rather than cancel the rest of the briefing for the day, Trump returned and was understandably peppered with questions about what happened. Reporters repeatedly asked for details about the incident after Trump told them everything he knew, and that was fine. The incident was serious, and reporters had every right to inquire and dig for details.

But not every journalist in the room was interested in the details of what had just occurred. Kristen Welker of NBC News used the occasion to ask Trump: “Are you rattled by all of this, Mr. President?”

Since it was clear he wasn’t, I’m not sure what Welker expected Trump to say or how the question was even relevant.

Did she really think Trump would say he was rattled? Of course not.

Was Welker hoping for a reaction? Probably.

But all she accomplished with the failed attempt to goad the president was a waste of everyone’s time.

On Aug. 13, Huffington Post White House correspondent S. V. Dáte asked this prize-winner: “After 3 1/2 years, do you regret, at all, all the lying you’ve done to the American people?”

As if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, Trump asked Dáte to repeat the question, and astoundingly he doubled down.

“All the lying, all the dishonesties?” Dáte said.

Needless to say, Trump didn’t waste time trying to engage in the premeditated “gotcha” question and moved on to another reporter.

These are the types of questions that reporters are asking of the person who is the biggest newsmaker in the world, in a setting where any journalist would love to have a seat.

Not only are such tactics a disservice to the general public that relies on the media to keep them informed, but it’s also insulting to every journalist who would love the opportunity to question the president directly on legitimate issues.

The inane questions from the press corps aren’t always directed to Trump, either. Other White House officials have to face the insanity as well, including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

During a briefing on Aug. 31, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS Newshour asked McEnany, in reference to the riots, if Trump was rooting for more violence for political benefit.

I’m not making this up.

McEnany stated the obvious when she told Alcindor that Trump condemns violence in all its forms.

Again, what kind of answer did Alcindor expect? Did she really think there was a chance that McEnany would say the president is indeed “rooting for violence” to help his re-election efforts?

When questions like this are asked during a White House media briefing, it’s clear the mainstream media has no intention of informing the public or asking about the things we really care about.

They’re clearly out to get Trump. It’s personal. However, rather than come clean and tell us how they really feel about Trump (sometimes they do), the mainstream media hides behind idiotic questions to carry out their vendetta.

Consider all the things this nation is dealing with: the virus, violence, riots and an economy that was wrecked. We have all of this going on, yet the mainstream media chooses to ask Trump how many deaths are acceptable? Does he regret all the lies? Is he rooting for violence?

Is he rattled?

After watching journalists sink to new lows when covering Trump, the behavior at White House press briefings should make us all a bit rattled.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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Tom Venesky is an award-winning freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. He has 20 years of experience as a reporter and columnist for daily newspapers, and his work has appeared in more than 50 publications nationwide.
Tom Venesky is an award-winning freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. He has 20 years of experience as a reporter and columnist for daily newspapers, and his work has appeared in more than 50 publications nationwide.