You can cover both stories — the central health story and the important political story — without conflating them.
Journalists can, and increasingly do, act on the realization that the public health story isn’t about Mr. Trump. Peter Hamby’s recent Vanity Fair/Snapchat interview with Dr. Fauci asked the good doctor about Tinder and baseball, refreshingly, instead of Mr. Trump. Dr. Ashish Jha of Harvard, a straight-shooter who complained to me a few weeks ago that interviewers on Fox and CNN were constantly trying to drag him into scoring points, said he had felt the partisan pressure eased in more recent cable news appearances.
“I don’t know that I’ve felt that same pull in the last couple of weeks,” he told me on Saturday. “Maybe producers have figured out that it’s not the most useful angle right now.”
The political story matters, too — and it’s possible to separate it, to a degree, from coverage of what is happening. In a political sense, the buck stops with Mr. Trump — the theme of an important Times story that seemed to be part of what had set him off against this publication on Saturday, as well as damning investigations in The Washington Post and elsewhere. Mr. Trump will be judged in November on how he led America through the crisis, and how many lives the slow American response will cost. Political journalists are, and should be, looking hard at Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign — the strategy of his apparatus, and his preference for improvisational live performance. They’re looking, too, at Joe Biden’s attempt to counter the president.
They should cover the campaign from the briefing room as well as the tweets — but they should cover them as what they are, a political campaign, not as a central part of the public health response except to the degree that it occasionally derails that response.
I don’t intend to reopen the tiresome debate over whether news organizations should broadcast Mr. Trump’s remarks. The only people really debating this are the outlets for whom it doesn’t really matter, unless you’re big on symbolism. How many listeners to Seattle’s NPR affiliate are proud red hat wearers? And who thinks that the outlets for whom it would matter — Fox News, most of all — are even considering it? The whole debate seemed rooted in the idea that if only your favored news outlet didn’t live stream the president, he would just go away.
But if the cable networks want an alternative to the briefings, they can get out of the studio and back to what first made TV news so powerful — not fact-checking, but emotionally powerful imagery of human suffering.