Pence bars top health experts Fauci and Birx from appearing on CNN, the network says

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference at the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 29, 2020 in Washington, DC.

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WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence’s office is barring top public health officials from appearing on CNN until the news network agrees to air the White House’s daily coronavirus briefings in their entirety, CNN reported on Thursday.

CNN often airs only the first portion of the daily briefings live, the part that is typically led by President Donald Trump, before returning to their news anchors during the second half of the briefing.

Only after Trump is finished speaking, taking questions from the press and calling on various experts to come up to the lectern, do Pence and other top officials have their own dedicated time to take questions and make announcements.

Health officials like Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci are typically part of this second portion of the briefing. These are the officials that Pence is refusing to allow on CNN, although they regularly appear on other news networks and broadcast networks. 

“When you guys cover the briefings with the health officials then you can expect them back on your air,” a Pence spokesman told CNN, referring to the second portion of the briefing, according to the network’s report. 

CNBC reached out to the vice president’s office and to CNN, neither of whom replied to questions about the report.

CNN has held weekly town halls on Thursday nights for the past month, each of which has featured Fauci and CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta discussing the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past week, however, Pence’s office has denied CNN’s request to have Fauci appear on its April 9 town hall, according to CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy. 

The tensions between CNN and the White House over the network’s daily briefing coverage also reflect larger issues at play, however, in an administration where the chief executive has repeatedly sought to undermine, blame and denigrate the free press.

There is already a great deal of bad blood between the Trump White House and CNN, whose reporters have aggressively questioned the president during his time in office.

The White House press office has also previously rescinded the credentials of at least one CNN reporter, White House correspondent Jim Acosta in 2018. After CNN sued the White House over Acosta’s revoked pass, and the Trump administration backed down and reinstated him. 

But the present situation also reflects a broader unease developing among news broadcasters over whether, and how, to air the daily press briefings, which can stretch to over two hours in length, and tend to paint a rosier picture of the deadly pandemic than many outside the administration believe is warranted.

Trump has also used the briefings repeatedly to attack his political opponents, spread misinformation about the pandemic and tout unproven drugs and treatments. 

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