Vice President Mike Pence’s office has reversed itself and will now allow two top public health officials to appear on CNN, after earlier blocking the medical professionals from appearing on the network because it has not carried the nightly White House Task Force briefings in their entirety.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will appear on a CNN coronavirus town hall on Thursday evening and Dr. Anthony Fauci will guest on New Day on Friday, the network said.
Earlier in the day, CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that Pence’s office had withheld the health experts from the network out of upset that the network had not carried the portion of the press briefings that include the Vice President and other members of the task force. According to CNN, a spokesperson for the Vice President said, “When you guys cover the briefings with the health officials then you can expect them back on your air.”
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CNN and other networks have been under pressure to stop airing the press briefings live, out of concerns that they have given President Donald Trump a platform to make unverified claims or relay other forms of misinformation. Even some on-air personalities have urged the networks to at least do more aggressive forms of fact checking. Some, like The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, suggested that Pence’s portion of the briefing, typically a more sobering view of the crisis, was just as if not more essential to cover.
“There’s a big debate going on among folks about whether cable should be airing Trump briefings,” she tweeted on Tuesday. “Okay. But if you’re running the beginning of the briefing, why cut away from Pence and the actual health officials?”
On Wednesday, CNN did cover the portion of the briefing where Trump took questions from the media, and also aired portions where Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx spoke to reporters. But to many viewers, it has meant that networks hop back and forth from the briefing to their news anchors, who have tried to do quick fact checks of some of the statements made.
The White House did not return a request for comment. A spokesperson for CNN also declined to comment.
One press advocacy organization, PEN America, condemned the attempt to restrict CNN’s access to public health officials.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said that it was “a wanton act of coercion in defiance of press freedom.”
“Politicians must not be allowed to dictate how the news is covered, period,” she said. “Using Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx as pawns in a campaign to force the coverage the White House denigrates these experts, silences their voices, and denies the American public access to information they need and deserve.”