NBC News staffers fire back at Trump, call his attack on reporter 'outrageous' and 'absolutely nuts'

President Trump gets into a heated exchange after NBC reporter Peter Alexander asks him what he wants to say to scared Americans during a coronavirus press briefing.

Posted: Mar 23, 2020 4:21 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2020 4:21 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Outrage inside NBC

Staffers at NBC News are outraged (and a bit confused) after President Trump viciously attacked their network's White House correspondent, Peter Alexander, at Friday's coronavirus briefing. Alexander, if you didn't see, asked Trump what he would say to Americans who are frightened amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of answering, Trump responded by rejecting the question ("nasty"), attacking Alexander ("terrible"), and assailing NBC News' parent company Comcast ("Con-Cast").

The verbal tirade -- which Trump defended after Kaitlan Collins asked whether it was appropriate -- did not go over well with people inside NBC News. "Outrageous," one senior NBC News employee told me of Trump's behavior. "Entirely unprompted. W.H. reporters should ask tough questions and Peter often does, BUT THAT WASN'T EVEN A TOUGH QUESTION."

Other NBC News staffers expressed a similar sentiment. "It's absolutely nuts he was attacked for asking a legitimate question," one NBC News reporter told me. "Extremely bizarre," said another. "It was a totally fair question with an obviously accurate premise. The reaction made no sense." Yet another staffer told me, "It's unsettling when these acts happen, but we continue to do our work."

Andy Lack's statement: "Peter Alexander is an outstanding reporter. His line of questioning at today's White House briefing was fair, straightforward, and necessary..."

"We call this a softball"

Appearing on NBC after the press conference, Alexander explained that he was offering Trump a platform to comfort the American people: "I am sure there are plenty of baseball fans watching right now. In TV terms, we call this a softball. I was trying to provide the president an opportunity to reassure" the public...

King goes further: It's "bullshit"

That's how CNN's John King referred to Trump's unhinged response to Alexander. Many other journalists joined in to back the NBC correspondent.

"Asked to perform one of the key duties of the presidency — to reassure the American public during a crisis — Trump instead attacked," WaPo's Ashley Parker noted.

WHCA prez Jonathan Karl added: "It's outrageous to use the presidential bully pulpit to bully a journalist like Peter — especially at a time like this."

Tapper's message

On his show, Jake Tapper looked straight into the camera and delivered a serious, pointed set of remarks to Trump. Tapper noted that Trump spent months belittling the threat of the virus and "only recently acknowledged the gravity of the crisis." He pointed out that Alexander's question would have been "easy for any other politician."

Tapper's conclusion: "If the president isn't capable of leading stably and effectively he should at least for his own reputation and for the good of the country stop making things worse and consider leaving the podium to others. The Hippocratic Oath -- first do not harm -- that applies to President Trump too."

Meanwhile, Fox's Brit Hume defends...

While practically the entire journalism world rallied around Alexander, Brit Hume defended Trump. "Legitimate question my a**," tweeted Hume. "It was the kind of bullsh*t gotcha question which hack WH reporters have been asking for decades. But instead of going off on the reporter, Trump should have said the whole briefing in all its particulars was a message to people who are scared."

Most importantly: Trump's comments came hours after NBC announced staffer's death

On Friday morning Andy Lack announced that Larry Edgeworth died Thursday after testing positive for Covid-19. Edgeworth was a veteran audio technician. He is survived by his wife Crystal and two sons. Lack said the network is "doing everything we can to support his family during this very difficult time."

Lester Holt's tribute on Friday night: "This crisis -- no, this horror we are going through -- is perhaps too easily reduced into numbers. The number of tests. The numbers of infected. And the number of dead. Allow me a moment to put just one face to the numbers, a face we here at NBC News know well, our colleague and friend Larry Edgeworth. We lost him to this virus last night. Holt called him "a kind and generous man who always made us smile" and said "we are heartbroken..."

Pompeo's words ring hollow

Near the beginning of Friday's briefing, Mike Pompeo implored Americans to "ensure where they turn to for information is [a] reliable source" and "not a bad actor trying to create and flow information that they know is wrong." But his words were undercut by Trump's behavior toward Alexander.

And it was quite rich listening to Pompeo make that statement, when Trump *THE DAY BEFORE* smeared the nation's top three newspapers, and praised a far-right media organization that regularly peddles conspiracy theories on his behalf. If I were Pompeo, I would focus my efforts on the President of the United States...

Sean Spicer returns to briefing room

Former W.H. press secretary Sean Spicer made a surprise appearance Friday in the briefing room. Spicer, who now hosts a Newsmax show, "appeared to become the first former White House press secretary to question the President that they once served from the briefing room," CNN's Betsy Klein and Caroline Kelly reported.

Trump called on Spicer by saying, "Yeah, please, in the back?" Spicer then asked about how the administration will be helping small businesses, to which Trump said he would be "helping them a lot..."

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