Radio Television Digital News Association president Dan Shelley has issued an "open letter" calling out the President and One America News Network (OAN) reporter Chanel Rion for separate incidents last week during the White House's daily coronavirus briefings. He also used the opportunity to give a shout out to his members, the journalists on the front lines of covering the crisis. 

"What was an opportunity for responsible journalists to press the President on the federal government’s response and new developments regarding important antiviral therapies, turned into an opportunity for OAN’s Chanel Rion and the President to take cheap shots at responsible media outlets, repeat offensive racial stereotypes and proselytize about the administration," said Shelley. 

In the briefing, Rion, in asking a question about whether the term "Chinese virus" was racist, said that "left wing media, even in this room, have teamed up with Chinese Communist party narratives and they are claiming you're racist...Is it alarming that major media players are siding with foreign state propaganda, Islamic radicals, and Latin cartels..." 

The President responded that he was amazed by the negative coverage because "I know the truth." He called the coverage "totally fake." He has praised OAN for positive coverage of him and his administration, suggesting it may be his new go-to network over Fox News Channel. 

"Shame on you Chanel Rion," wrote Shelley. "You are not the kind of messenger the public needs in the middle of this crisis." 

Kelley's other call-out was over the President's treatment of NBC reporter Peter Alexander at the briefing the following day. Citing the infection and death statistics, and framing that in the context of whether the President was putting rosy a cast on the crisis, Alexander asked what the President would say to calm an anxious nation--Alexander later said he was essentially lobbing a softball question in search of some actual reassurance. 

The President responded: "I say that you are a terrible reporter, that's what I say."  

He called it a "nasty" question and a "bad signal" to put out to the American people. He said the American people "are looking for answers and they're looking for hope."

"You're doing sensationalism, and the same with NBC and Con-cast, for whom you work--I don't call it Comcast, I call it Con-cast," the President added for clarification. "Let me just tell you something. That's really bad reporting and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism."  

"Mr. President, news conferences meant to communicate important updates are not substitutes for rallies in an election year," Kelly wrote in a virtual finger wag. 

"As the leader of the country's largest association of broadcast and digital journalists and as a long-time journalist myself, I want Americans to know Rion’s bad behavior is not an accurate reflection of the work hundreds of local journalists are doing right now to serve and protect them. And Alexander’s question was intended to give Mr. Trump a chance to calm a nation in desperate need of some degree of solace," he said.  

The letter is reprinted in full below: 

By: Dan Shelley

RTDNA Executive Director

Last week during a White House briefing on the coronavirus epidemic, President Trump engaged in a distracting exchange with a reporter from the far-right news outlet One America News Network (OAN). 

What was an opportunity for responsible journalists to press the President on the federal government’s response and new developments regarding important antiviral therapies, turned into an opportunity for OAN’s Chanel Rion and the President to take cheap shots at responsible media outlets, repeat offensive racial stereotypes and proselytize about the administration. 

Shame on you Chanel Rion. You are not the kind of messenger the public needs in the middle of this crisis. 

Just a day after this exchange, President Trump verbally tore into NBC News White House Correspondent Peter Alexander after Alexander responsibly asked the country’s leader “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” 

Apparently without considering the impact of his words as the leader of the country, the President responded by calling out Alexander as a terrible reporter, calling out NBC and “Concast” as sensational and declaring that asking a question like that is a bad for the American people.“ 

Mr. President, news conferences meant to communicate important updates are not substitutes for rallies in an election year. 

Right now, Americans desperately need clear and factual information to make life and death decisions. The system fails us when people like Rion and the President chose to prioritize a political agenda. 

As the leader of the country's largest association of broadcast and digital journalists and as a long-time journalist myself, I want Americans to know Rion’s bad behavior is not an accurate reflection of the work hundreds of local journalists are doing right now to serve and protect them. And Alexander’s question was intended to give Mr. Trump a chance to calm a nation in desperate need of some degree of solace.  

Responsible journalists across the country are working around the clock with one purpose in mind – facilitating public health and safety. They are seeking reliable sources to provide accurate health information. They are pressing state and local governments on their response to the coronavirus. They are passing along crucial public alerts and official communications in order to facilitate preparedness and combat panic. 

We have seen countless examples of journalists on the front lines of this crisis pulling together to facilitate public information even when staffing and resources are disrupted by exposure to this virus. 

In New York, CBS News made the responsible choice to close their entire broadcast center after several employees tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, local affiliate WCBS was displaced from its studio and operations center. Instead of giving up, the WCBS team has been anchoring the news from the sidewalk and partnering with KCBS in Los Angeles who is providing additional staff and technical direction. 

With so much mis- and disinformation in the public domain, KXLY in Spokane is taking extra measures to explain the decisions they are making related to coronavirus coverage and providing the public examples of the guidance they follow to ensure accurate information and vet reputable sources. 

CBS’s Steve Hartman is joining many other reporters to expand their efforts supporting communities by providing lessons for students. Countless other news organizations, network and local, are doing everything they can to help communities and the nation get the facts – facts – necessary to help fight this war on COVID-19. 

There are countless examples of news organizations collaborating to share stories, tips and knowledge about this new virus because supporting one another rather than competing to break a story is the right decision for the public in a life and death situation. 

Right now journalists on the front lines are performing and essential job. I have the utmost confidence they will continue to seek and report the truth as this crisis continues because they are the public too. They have families, co-workers and communities they care deeply about. And they are weighing the decisions they make in reporting carefully because the lives of those they care about depend on it too.  

Have faith, America. There are a multitude of responsible journalists out there working on your behalf. And we will not tolerate those who give in to distraction and partisanship.  

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