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You can see it in his eyes: Vice-President Mike Pence wants to appease the president. And what better way than to provide an opportunity to boost Trump’s TV ratings, a favorite distraction of his in times of crisis. According to CNN, Pence’s office has been blocking top public-health officials from appearing on its shows “in an attempt to pressure the network into carrying the White House’s lengthy daily briefings in full.”
Responsible for TV booking during the pandemic, Pence’s office has reportedly limited the availability of public-health officials, so that most of the opportunities are available only to experts like Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci. There’s a quid pro quo in the exchange as well: Fauci and Birx may appear on the network if it agrees to televise White House Coronavirus Task Force pressers. While CNN has broadcast Trump’s Q&A sections, they often cut away when other administration officials speak in order to test the president’s claims against reality. Over the last week, Pence’s office has declined to make the pair available to CNN, telling the network that “When you guys cover the briefings with the health officials then you can expect them back on your air.” But shortly after CNN published its report, the network stated that “Mike Pence’s office reversed course on Thursday afternoon” and will allow two health officials to appear on the station later this week.
While a more traditional administration with a less fractious relationship with the media would want to ensure the largest audience possible for messages of public health — the most effective tool in tamping down the spread of the coronavirus to date — the Trump administration wants to ensure the president can relive the rush of attention from his reality-TV career. Though the efficacy of the briefings is waning as Trump takes the television appearances as an opportunity to remind Americans he used to sleep with models, the president is still boasting of his ratings as Americans die by the thousands:
Trump’s insensitivity in a time of crisis is not without precedent. Three years ago this summer, he jump shot rolls of paper towels into a crowd in Puerto Rico, where almost 3,000 Americans died in a hurricane from which the island still hasn’t fully recovered. Nineteen years ago, on another day in which almost 3,000 Americans perished, Trump went on TV to inform the audience that he now had the tallest building in downtown Manhattan.