Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan is calling on networks to stop airing President Trump’s “dangerous, destructive” coronavirus press briefings.
“More and more each day, President Trump is using his daily briefings as a substitute for the campaign rallies that have been forced into extinction by the spread of the novel coronavirus,” is the way her column began. “These White House sessions — ostensibly meant to give the public critical and truthful information about this frightening crisis — are in fact working against that end.”
Funny she should mention the campaign rallies. The press briefings began back in February with a style comparable to a one with lies, exaggerations, and a good dose of media bashing. But then someone probably got into his ear and said, “Hey POTUS – this is serious. We need to form a real task force for dealing with this.” You can visualize him adding, “Hey, I don’t have time for that. I’ll just give it to Mike Pence to handle.”
Somewhere in the middle of this some frightening statistics, worrisome trends, and scary conclusions worked their way into the West Wing of the White House and the tone in the briefings became more somber. Now the briefings included Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and several other experts.
President Trump often has to go fishing for the right words. Occasionally he grabs the right ones, but mostly he seems like is formulating the sentence – or at least, fine-tuning it – before the next sentence is about to take shape.
For example: “The — John’s Hopkins I guess is a highly respected great place. They did a — a — a study, comprehensive. The countries best and worst prepared for an epidemic. And the United States is now — we’re rated number one.”
This sentence is representative of many in which the subtext – the real message – has to do with him winning the re-election as president. That’s why a lot of the briefings are really for his own partisan political benefit. He is now a “wartime president,” a hero, a man with a mission.
There have been no actual campaign rallies since the press briefings began in earnest. It’s almost as if the briefings are – wait for it – campaign rallies.
It must have not been exciting enough to have serious briefings about the virus, so Trump returned to some of his favorite things, most often based on the idea that “the media isn’t treating me fairly.” Back to “fake news” and media-bashing, blaming others rounded out with a touch of racism by calling it “the Chinese virus.”
So then, why is this different than any other time that he gave speeches?
The difference is that now it’s taking place during a global pandemic with thousands of lives depending on reliable information and trustworthy sources. It’s a huge difference when people’s lives depend on it.
Because of the seriousness of the pandemic, even what appears to be a small bit of mistaken information can actually be destructive. Last Thursday, Trump hyped a potential treatment he heard about for COVID-19. This is a drug to treat malaria, lupus, and a variety of other autoimmune diseases. He “heard that people thought it was good.” He himself thought the drug was very promising.
Trump said, “I feel good about it. That’s all it is: Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy…I’ve been right a lot…let’s see what happens.
On Friday reporters asked inquired about chloroquine as a “cure” for coronavirus. “As it stands, there are no major clinical trials proving the effectiveness of choloroquine for Covid-19,” said Fauci, “but there’s some anecdotal and weaker evidence that possibly supports it.”
On Friday, users of choloroquine and hydrocholoroquine were shocked to discover they could not renew their prescription. They couldn’t make sure that they had enough of the drug to get them through these hard times. Why? It was because after President Trump’s briefing and his “feeling about it” – overzealous Americans ordered huge supplies of the drug. They were afraid they might run out.
And they did run out. Just like toilet paper – it was gone.