Most local television newscasts covering President Donald Trump’s upcoming New Hampshire rally have neglected to mention that his other recent political events have proved unsafe, as not many people have socially distanced or worn masks, and some staffers and Secret Service personnel tested positive for coronavirus afterward.
On July 5, a reporter for Manchester-based WMUR reported that Trump will hold a rally on July 11 in Portsmouth. Many news reports on the announcement included a campaign statement that the event attendees will have “ample access to hand sanitizer” and that they “will be provided a face mask that they are strongly encouraged to wear.” This framing without context from the past events may mislead the public into believing that the event will be safe and the campaign is acting responsibly.
But the Trump campaign’s recent events have proved to be unsafe. An Associated Press report on the upcoming rally noted that “many people” at Trump’s indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month “skipped wearing masks, and relatively few masks were seen during his speech at South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore last Friday.” The AP also reported that Trump’s Tulsa rally led to “an outbreak of the [coronavirus] among staff and Secret Service agents.” Coronavirus cases climbed in Tulsa in the days immediately following the rally, though local health officials have said it’s not known whether the rally attendance contributed to the increase. Trump’s June 23 indoor event at a megachurch in Phoenix, Arizona, also failed to enforce face mask usage or social distancing. A separate visit by Vice President Mike Pence to Arizona was delayed after several Secret Service agents who helped organize the trip became ill with COVID-19. Many attendees at Trump’s July 4 celebration at the White House also reportedly did not practice social distancing or wear masks.
While all of the initial local television news coverage of Trump’s upcoming Portsmouth rally mentioned coronavirus concerns related to the event, the vast majority of the reports failed to inform the audiences that Trump’s recent political events have been unsafe. Out of 63 local news reports on the rally in the first 24 hours of coverage, only 22, or 35%, mentioned that Trump staffers fell ill from previous events or that his previous events did not enforce face mask usage or social distancing.
New Hampshire-area TV news stations that failed to mention this important context in any of their coverage of the upcoming rally included Nashua-based NBC affiliate WBTS; Burlington-based WVNY (Vermont); Burlington-based CBS affiliate WCAX; Burlington-based Fox affiliate WFFF; and Portland-based NBC affiliate WCSH (Maine). And many others failed to consistently mention it. Viewers may be relying on these newscasts to inform their decisions on whether to attend the rally or be present near it -- and pointing out that Trump’s previous events were unsafe could save lives. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time local television news organizations have failed to provide important pandemic-related context while reporting on the Trump events.
Manchester-based ABC affiliate WMUR, which was the first local TV outlet to cover the New Hampshire rally story, mentioned the safety issues of other recent Trump political events in only 17% of its rally coverage. Boston-based CBS affiliate WBZ-TV included this information in 20% of its coverage; and Poland Spring-based ABC affiliate WMTW in Maine mentioned it in one-third of its coverage.
Some TV stations mentioned this information in about half of their reporting, including Boston-based Fox affiliate WFXT and Plattsburgh-based NBC affiliate WPTZ (New York).
Only three stations mentioned any of this important context in all of their coverage of the rally over the first 24 hours: Boston-based ABC affiliate WCVB, Portland-based CBS affiliate WGME, and Waterville-based Fox affiliate WPFO (Maine), which covered the rally only once during this period.
Methodology: Media Matters searched the Kinetiq video database between July 5 and July 6, 2020, for mentions of Trump within 20 words of mentions of “rally,” “event,” “speech,” “stage,” “speak,” or “New Hampshire,” and reviewed every search result for a mention of whether coronavirus concerns regarding the upcoming rally were mentioned, and whether or not the coverage mentioned Trump staffers becoming ill from previous events, or previous events not enforcing mask wearing or social distancing. Only the first 24 hours of news coverage was examined, beginning with the 5 p.m. EDT hour on July 5 and ending through the 4 p.m. EDT hour of July 6. This search was in the markets identified by Nielsen as broadcasting in New Hampshire: Boston (Manchester), Burlington-Plattsburgh, and Portland-Auburn. Reports from nationally syndicated news programs and teasers were not counted.