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After creating new programming rules for the Trump administration and airing virtually every minute of every White House press briefing live and in its entirety, CNN has quietly cut the cord with the new Democratic administration.
Just one month into President Joe Biden's term, the all-news cable channel last week stopped airing the daily White House press briefings. Perhaps the events weren't entertaining enough, as White House spokesperson Jen Psaki has routinely declined to insert Biden into cultural war debates, refused to castigate reporters, and won’t make stuff up in the name of partisan warfare, the way her Republican predecessors did.
Instead, Psaki has answered questions as best she can about White House policy, while treating journalists with respect, instead of mocking them in search of cheap political points.
That's no longer considered must-see TV at CNN. Fox News also stopped airing the briefings, which is completely expected. MSNBC as of last week was still airing the live Q&A's from the White House.
CNN's move represents one of the most dramatic ways the press has changed the way it covers Biden, as compared to Trump. Suddenly gone is the nonstop, unfiltered coverage of White House briefings, which defined cable news during the past four years.
In January 2017, the rules changed overnight when Trump was inaugurated and suddenly the media sessions were treated as breaking news events. That, despite the fact that during the final six months of Barack Obama's presidency, just three percent of daily White House press briefings aired live, according to Media Matters.
In other words, Obama briefings were not aired. Trump's were. Now, Biden's are not. So much for liberal media bias.
There were no blockbuster stories or public crises unfolding back in early 2017. It was simply the D.C. press collectively deciding that every Trump utterance and each one of his administration's briefings had to be carried live, which meant hundreds of hours of free airtime.
That brand of obedient programming led to a breathless mindset more synonymous with a wartime culture — Everybody stop what you’re doing, the White House is about to make a statement! There was no justification for the nonstop coverage, especially when the briefings were built on deceits, designed to foil honest inquiries.
Early on, reporters knew the Trump White House press briefings were a sham and a waste of time. In June 2017, CNN's Jim Acosta called the events "useless" and "pointless" because so little relevant information was being given to reporters.
And from May 31 that year, on CNN [emphasis added]:
ALISYN CAMEROTA: So then Sean Spicer goes to the podium with the press; and he can't confirm or comment on the questions that the press has about Jared Kushner and whether or not Jared Kushner tried to set up this back channel. So I mean, at what point -- why is Sean Spicer holding these press briefings? You know? What's the point of these?
DAVID GREGORY: There's really no point. And what's unfortunate for Sean Spicer is that the White House press secretary position under President Trump doesn't have credibility.
That same day, CNN’s Dylan Byers detailed just how little substance then-White House spokesperson Spicer delivered at the briefings: “For two days in a row, since returning from President Trump's trip abroad, the White House press secretary has held uncharacteristically short press briefings in which he claimed not to know the answer to questions, outsourced questions to other officials or dismissed the premise of questions entirely.”
That was January 2017. CNN for the next four years continued to air virtually every White House press briefing during Trump's term. It wasn't until February 2021, with a new Democrat president inside the Oval Office that CNN decided press briefings were no longer newsworthy.
Even more unforgivable was the fact that Trump's pandemic briefings were aired all last year. Every time Trump addressed the novel virus and America's unfolding pandemic, he made things worse with his steady stream of reckless contradictions, lies, and misinformation. One low point was when Trump used a television briefing to suggest Americans inject bleach into their bodies to fight off Covid-19, a deadly suggestion. This, while Trump was simultaneously lying about dismantling the White House's pandemic team, accused hospital workers of stealing much-needed surgical masks, and told governors on a conference call that he hadn't heard any complaints about there being a shortage of coronavirus tests.
Another briefing moment of shame came in April when Trump hosted one of the most bizarre televised performances by a sitting president. The planned rant featured a campaign-style commercial that aired in the briefing room and attacked the media as well as Trump's critics who had hammered him over the administration's botched handling of the pandemic. Immediately following the meltdown, CNN anchor John King admitted, "That was propaganda aired at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room."
So why did CNN keep airing future briefings?
More importantly, why did CNN decide the time to stop airing them was when a new Democratic president took office?
Editor's Note (C&L): Don't get us started about Fox News: