ABC News’ Jonathan Karl compares covering indoor Trump rally to taking ‘family with you to Fallujah’

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Veteran ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl, who has frequently been critical of the administration, complained about the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing at President Donald Trump’s indoor rally in Las Vegas, comparing it to a hard-fought city in Iraq.

Karl, who has reported from a number of actual war zones, told the National Journal that covering Trump rallies during the COVID-19 pandemic was different because of the disease’s contagious nature.

“This is not like embedding with the Marines in Fallujah. It is like you are taking your family with you to Fallujah,” he said in reference to a city in Iraq where major battles between U.S. and Iraqi rebel forces took place.

Karl’s remarks come amid complaints from other journalists covering the president that they weren’t given much advance notice that the Vegas rally would instead be held indoors.

The National Journal’s George Condon Jr. writes:

When President Trump took the stage in Las Vegas Sunday night, it marked more than a resumption of his controversial indoor political rallies. It also signified a low point in six months of talks between the White House and a White House press corps struggling to cover a president who does not prioritize their health. Reporters willing to run toward danger in war zones, riots, and terrorist attacks drew the line on spending hours tightly packed in an indoor space with more than 5,000 cheering supporters, few of whom were wearing masks.

After being told the rally would be held inside, reporters pressed White House and campaign staff for “assurances” that there would at least be social distancing and mask requirements. But when they did not get them, coverage of the event was then left to the “pool” — a group of 13 reporters who travel with the president aboard Air Force One and in motorcades.

An ABC crew was also working the rally in what Condon described as a “transmission pool” which supplies a camera headshot of the president and sound for all networks to utilize.

But missing from the event were other news crews who typically get their own shots — over a fear of catching the virus.

“They decided the crews would be in the building for more than six hours and that was dangerous,” one member of the pool told the National Journal on condition of anonymity. “We did not know it as an indoor rally until the schedule came out, and we were all surprised. This was the first indoor rally since Tulsa. It felt strange.”

Karl, who was head of the White House Correspondents’ Association when the president did his live rally in Tulsa, said some news organizations kept their crews out of the building then, but the Vegas rally was “the first time that everybody stayed out except for the pool.”

“I can’t think of a precedent to this,” Princeton professor Julian Zelizer, a presidential expert, told the National Journal. “The president is simply creating a dangerous situation to prove some sort of point. He puts followers at risk, and then reporters who want to cover the story. There is zero sense to what he did.”

It should be noted that the president’s supporters attended his rally voluntarily.

“It’s hard to come up with a precedent for what happened in Las Vegas because we’ve never had a pandemic like this before and we never had a president who was totally inconsiderate before,” Charles Bierbauer, who covered the White House during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and his vice president successor, George H. W. Bush, told the outlet.

“The media are in a position where they are kind of torn.”

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Jon Dougherty

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