Howard Dean Rips TV Networks for Airing Trump Briefings: "It's Dangerous"

Howard Dean - visits Gerson Lehrman Group - Getty-H 2020
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The former presidential candidate says he won't guest on MSNBC, which employed him as a contributor, until they stop the daily broadcasts.

Former presidential candidate and Democratic Party leader Howard Dean drew a line in the sand Tuesday, April 7.

"I just told MSNBC I wasn't going on their shows as long as they were broadcasting Trump's press conference," he wrote on Twitter. "I won’t make much difference if it’s just me but if 50 of you did it it would make a difference."

A week later, Dean tells The Hollywood Reporter that he isn't aware of any other national politicos who have joined his boycott, but he's just as fiery in discussing why he thinks it's so "dangerous" for cable news networks like MSNBC, CNN and Fox News to be broadcasting President Trump's daily Coronavirus Task Force briefings.

"Trump is not doing this for any reason other than to communicate with his base at a time where he can't have rallies," Dean says. "This has been a problem since Trump ran. Cable television made Donald Trump, because cable television is reality television. But it has very little to do with governance. ... It's dangerous. People have died because of some of the things that Trump has said on television about hydroxychloroquine and stuff like that. And I think the cable television industry has a responsibility for those deaths, not just Trump."

Dean is familiar with the cable news business model. He spent a few years as an MSNBC contributor before the network chose not to renew his contract, he said, adding, "I enjoyed it."

"They think it's good for ratings," Dean says of the briefings. "[Morning Joe co-hosts] Joe and Mika used to have Trump on in his bathrobe on the telephone. Nobody else got that kind of treatment. Trump says outrageous things, the reality television crowd pays attention to them, and it's a major problem for governing the country, because he harms people by giving them misinformation."

Dean continues: "It must be ratings, because reality television sells. It's the lowest common denominator. It's certainly not news. It's hard for these folks to call themselves news networks if this is the kind of crap they're putting on there. … The media is about making money. They care about ratings, they care about sensationalism. … This stuff is just a cartoon show. And it's absurd. And it's very bad for the country. … These guys are just debasing their mission, and it's harming the country. … These are purportedly news channels that peddle misinformation for the sake of the ratings."

In recent days, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have joined their MSNBC colleagues Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes in discouraging television networks from broadcasting the briefings.

But the network is still broadcasting portions of the briefings. "That's because [network chairman] Andy Lack rules the place with an iron hand, and for him it's all about the money," he says.

The hosts "get told, 'This is what you're going to do,' and they do it," Dean says. "They're all getting paid huge amounts of money."

Asked about the network's decision to selectively air the briefings, an MSNBC spokesperson previously told THR that it makes editorial coverage decisions on a day-to-day basis and fact-checks the president's comments using a team of analysts and medical experts.

Dean saved his harshest commentary for Fox News Channel, which has faced criticism for downplaying the threat of the novel coronavirus during the network's morning and evening opinion programming.

"I think they should be sued," Dean says. "I'm surprised a couple of good class-action lawyers haven't gotten together and sued the daylights out of them. I think they're largely responsible for the divisions of the country. They just make stuff up and peddle it as news."

He continues: "I just think they're incredibly dangerous. Fox News is totally unethical. I haven't been on Fox News for years. I get asked to go on, I just don't go on. I don't even go on the shows I like. I like Chris Wallace and I respect him. But I don't even go on that, because I think Fox is just anti-American."

To date, the Fox News Channel has faced one lawsuit, from the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, which the network has decried as "frivolous" and moved to dismiss Tuesday.