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KUOW statement on live White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings

KUOW recently made an editorial decision to stop airing White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic live on a daily basis. We will continue to cover these briefings – but believe it is imperative that they are fact-checked, which is a challenge during a live broadcast.

This action has caused some to question whether this decision was politically based. It was not.

KUOW weighs each decision about preempting regular programming individually, based on perceived news value in the moment and whether a preemption is of the highest value to our local audience.

After airing the White House briefings live for two weeks, a pattern of false information and exaggeration increasingly had many at KUOW questioning whether these briefings were in the best service of our mission—to create and serve a more informed public. Of even greater concern was the potential impact of false information on the health and safety of our community.

A sampling of exaggerations and false information that were not fact checked in real time:

  • “Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion,” President Trump said at a live White House briefing on March 19 despite warnings from the U.S. Intelligence community earlier this year.
  • “You’re seeing very few empty shelves,” our listeners heard live from President Trump on March 20. Local reporting shows many stores are out of basic supplies, including hand soap.
  • We’re going to be able to make the drug chloroquine “available almost immediately” said President Trump on March 19. The president claimed, incorrectly, that the FDA had fast-tracked approval of its use to treat COVID-19. There isn't current medical evidence of the efficacy of that drug in treating COVID-19.

Knowing this a very fluid situation, we will revisit this decision daily.

KUOW will continue to treat all opportunities for live preemption on a case-by-case basis weighing for importance, news value and immediacy of need-to-know. But be clear, KUOW and NPR will continue to cover White House briefings and share relevant information from federal government and public health sources in the format most useful to our listeners.