A group of journalism professors, including three from colleges in Oklahoma, have called on television networks to stop the live airing of President Donald Trump’s briefings on COVID-19.
“We write to demand that the live, unedited airing of the Daily White House Task Force Briefings stop,” the group letter states. “Because Donald Trump uses them as a platform for misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19, they have become a serious public health hazard—a matter of life and death for viewers who cannot easily identify his falsehoods, lies, and exaggerations.”
The signatories include Josh Watson of Oklahoma Christian University, Patrick Meirick from the University of Oklahoma, and Ben Peters, a professor at the University of Tulsa.
The professors claim Trump has provided “misinformation and medically unsound, even lethal advice,” pointing to the president’s mention that hydroxychloroquine, long used to treat malaria, has shown promise as a treatment for COVID-19.
At a March 19 briefing, Trump said that “if chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine works—or any of the other things that they’re looking at that are not quite as far out—but if they work, your numbers are going to come down very rapidly. So we’ll see what happens. But there’s a real chance that they might—they might work.”
He has since made similar comments touting the drug’s potential as a COVID-19 treatment, although those comments have often been tempered by Trump’s noting the treatment remains under review, as was the case with his March 19 statement.
While the professors point to Trump’s comments as causing citizens to consider hydroxychloroquine a potential COVID-19 treatment, reports citing medical sources have often echoed Trump’s assessment.
In late March, an international poll of more than 6,000 doctors found hydroxychloroquine was a highly rated treatment for COVID-19. The survey, conducted by global health care polling company Sermo, included 6,227 physicians in 30 countries. Thirty-seven percent of those treating COVID-19 patients rated hydroxychloroquine as the “most effective therapy” from a list of 15 options.
On April 6, Reuters reported, “Doctors and pharmacists from more than half a dozen large healthcare systems in New York, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington, and California told Reuters they are routinely using hydroxychloroquine on patients hospitalized with COVID-19.”
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved the emergency use of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of “certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19.”
The professors also claim Trump “has suggested that patients be injected with disinfectant to ‘clean’ their lungs.”
That appears to be a reference to comments made earlier this month, when Bill Bryan, the head of the science and technology directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, discussed research about COVID-19.
At that briefing, Trump said he “asked Bill a question” about several areas of research, including, “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?”
“We ask that no speech, rally, or press conference involving the president be covered live anymore,” the professors wrote.
The demand to end public airing of presidential briefings has not been universally embraced by all journalism professors.
Mark Grabowski, who teaches communications law at Adelphi University in New York, recently wrote, “I never thought I’d see the day that journalism professors would petition for censorship or that a liberal magazine would advocate we become more like China. But I guess 2016 really broke their brains.”
Grabowski said he was asked to sign the petition but declined. He described the demand to stop the airing of the briefings as equivalent to declaring that “the chattering class must control discourse because people are too stupid to think for themselves.”
“Many of the same journalists who would filter Trump’s words have exacerbated the infodemic by spreading their share of misinformation about COVID-19,” Grabowski wrote. “A CNN anchor was caught staging fake news about his quarantine. On multiple occasions, journalists have misrepresented Trump's statements related to the virus. No, he didn't call it a hoax or prescribe fish tank cleaner.”
He argued such events are why unedited airing of presidential briefings are needed.
“That’s why TV networks should show exactly what the president says, unedited, and let the public evaluate for themselves,” Grabowski said.
This is not the first time Oklahoma college officials, many of them paid with taxpayer funds, have injected themselves into partisan politics. In December, seven Oklahoma law professors signed a letter supporting Trump’s impeachment even though they took “no position on whether the President committed a crime.”
While the letter signed by Watson, Meirick, and Peters suggests that adults who do not have a medical background “cannot easily identify” false medical information that may be presented in a public forum, none of the three Oklahoma professors appears to have any medical expertise.
Meirick’s university bio page states that one of his three main research areas is “People’s false beliefs about politics: What roles do partisanship and partisan news media use play in explaining them?” Peters’ degrees include one in “Slavic Literature & Language.” Watson teaches courses about social media.
Watson’s postings on social media also include several messages with a strong partisan leaning.
On April 25 on his Twitter account, Watson retweeted an article claiming, “Trump’s pandemic propaganda comes straight from Putin playbook.” The linked article was published by Press Run, which describes itself as providing an “unfiltered, passionate, and proudly progressive critique of the political press in the age of Trump.” On April 23, Watson retweeted another Twitter account that declared, “Journalism is great, but the GOP and Mr Trump are phenomena that need to be dealt with in the domains of counter-intelligence, psychological warfare, defense, and criminal justice.”