On Monday, the network morning shows offered a combined 69 seconds of coverage on historic St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. being set on fire and vandalized by violent protesters Sunday night. On Tuesday, those same broadcasts devoted a combined 30 minutes of coverage to hyping the “outrage” over President Trump visiting the church Monday evening.
“As tear gas is used to clear demonstrators for a presidential photo-op in front of a fire-damaged church,” co-host Hoda Kotb decried at the top of NBC’s Today show on Tuesday. She added: “Just ahead, our interview with the bishop who says she is outraged by the President’s visit.”
Minutes later, fellow co-host Savannah Guthrie was similarly aghast: “Tear gas used on protesters in order to clear the way for the President to walk over from the White House across the street for this photo, to hold up a Bible in front of a church that had been damaged in a fire because of some of the protests.” She touted how “that is a move that is getting extraordinary criticism this morning.”
In a report that followed, White House correspondent Kristen Welker wailed: “Then, in a surprise move, the President and his top advisers walked across the park to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, where a fire was set during demonstrations Sunday night....The Episcopal Bishop of D.C. blasting the President for what she called a photo-op and saying she never gave him permission to be there.”
On Tuesday, the NBC morning show devoted 13 minutes 25 seconds of air time to blasting Trump’s church visit. On Monday, only 35 seconds of the two-hour show noted violent protesters attacking the historic religious site.
Leading off ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday, co-host George Stephanopoulos announced: “And outrage is growing after U.S. Park and Secret Service Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators near the White House, clearing the way for the President’s photo-op in front of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.”
During a report minutes later, correspondent Cecilia Vega ranted:
This was, as you said, that backdrop for that photo-op and now in the face of all of this controversy, the White House is saying that those authorities moved in on those peaceful protesters in order to enforce Washington, D.C.’s 7:00 p.m. curfew. But let me tell you what the reality was. Those U.S. Park Police, those Secret Service Police moved in on those peaceful protesters a full 25 minutes before that curfew was supposed to even start and they cleared the way and then President Trump showed up right here for that photo-op.
The Park Police dispute that version of events, denying that they used tear gas and claiming that they were unaware of the President’s plan to exit the White House and walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s.
Vega dismissed Trump’s visit to the church as “a made-for-reality-TV prime time moment,” where he was joined by “his entourage” (which included the Attorney General and the Defense Secretary) and “held up a Bible for the cameras.”
On Tuesday, ABC’s GMA spent 8 minutes 16 seconds bemoaning Trump’s visit to St. John’s. On Monday, the assault on the church was given a scant 25 seconds.
“Peaceful protesters outside the White House are tear gassed, minutes later, President Trump poses for a photo-op at a church,” co-host Gayle King declared at the opening of CBS This Morning on Tuesday. Moments later, she reiterated that it was the top story of the day: “But our main focus this morning is on Washington, where peaceful protesters, we have to stress that, peaceful protesters outside the White House were tear gassed and pushed away so it appears that the President could have a photo-op.”
In a report minutes later, correspondent Wiejia Jiang eagerly cited the President’s critics comparing him to a “dictator”:
Once the area was cleared, Mr. Trump left the White House on foot, walking to the historic St. John’s Church, where he held up a Bible before cameras. Democrats and church leaders condemned the visit, excusing President Trump of acting like a dictator to stage a photo-op on sacred ground.
Tuesday’s CBS This Morning coverage slamming Trump for walking on church grounds was 8 minutes 21 seconds. On Monday, the actual burning of the church was given a mere 9 seconds.
In addition to the initial hyperbolic coverage of Trump’s church visit on Tuesday, all three morning show’s welcomed on the left-wing Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, and teed her up to repeatedly slam the President.
If journalists want to criticize the timing and optics of Trump visiting a church, they should at least be as outraged by rioters who set that church on fire a day earlier.