As the fast-moving tragedy unfolds -- more than 3,000 Americans having died from the coronavirus, and the toll projected to reach at least 200,000 -- one thing hasn’t changed.
Some media people are still demanding that television blackout President Trump’s virus briefings, and Trump is again picking daily fights with reporters.
My gut reaction: How bad do things have to be in the United States of America for the two sides to cool it and forge a better working relationship?
But when I express such sentiments, the virulent reaction on Twitter tells a different story. Trump boosters say the media are unpatriotic scum who would rather destroy the country than be fair to a courageous president. Trump haters say the president is responsible for untold numbers of deaths and can’t rise above his petty attacks on journalists and political opponents. The Boston Globe just went there in an editorial, saying Trump has “blood on his hands” -- the same phrase that Chuck Todd used in a question to Joe Biden, who said on “Meet the Press” that those words were too harsh.
In short, maybe each side mirrors the raw emotions of its base in a hugely polarized country on edge over a pandemic.
Still, it amazes me that prominent commentators are insisting that cable news stop carrying the White House coronavirus briefings, a plea first made by that Rachel Maddow 10 days ago. Their bosses at MSNBC and CNN aren’t listening to them, at least so far. Which is fortunate, since the suggestion itself is arrogant and condescending. Remember how the press was up in arms when Trump canceled the daily press briefings? Now they’re trying to cancel him.
Even if you believe Trump is spewing misinformation, shouldn’t the country also hear from the vice president and such medical experts as Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx? If Trump says things that turn out to be untrue or wildly optimistic, shouldn’t Americans be able to see that and make up their own minds? Can’t the networks fact-check him the other 23 hours a day?
Still, CNN’s Don Lemon wants the plug pulled. “I’m not actually sure if you want to be honest that we should carry that live,” he told viewers. “I think we should run snippets. I think we should do it afterward and get the pertinent points to the American people. Because he’s never, ever going to tell you the truth.”
The prime-time host says Trump “wants his base to think the media’s being mean to him” and “it is all a plot...Those press briefings have become his new ‘Apprentice.’ They’ve become his new rallies.”
Trump did say his ratings were comparable to the “Bachelor” finale, but think for a moment. Lemon is saying that Trump uses daily televised briefings to build support for his approach -- unlike other presidents who have held news conferences? I think what bugs him and other critics is that the president’s approval rating for handling the crisis is rising, and the briefings are playing a starring role.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said the decision on carrying the briefings is “above my pay grade,” that “I don’t make the call if we take him or not, but it seems crazy to me everyone is taking them when you have the MyPillow guy getting up there talking about reading the Bible.”
Now that requires a separate response. Mike Lindell, whose company plans to make 50,000 face masks, is one of several CEOs who spoke at Monday’s briefing. He’s a friend and supporter of Trump, who wants him to run for office in Minnesota, and that’s undoubtedly why he spoke before the heads of such corporate giants as Honeywell and Procter-Gamble.
Yes, Lindell heaped praise on Trump, and yes, he is a devout Christian whose faith helped him beat his crack addiction and build a successful company. And yet there was plenty of media mockery, and disdain for religion, for a guy who is using his company to help out in a crisis. MSNBC’s Ali Velshi tweeted, “Trump just called the ‘My Pillow’ guy up to the podium in the Rose Garden. You cannot make this stuff up.”
At the same time, Trump has ramped up his criticism of the reporters who question him each day.
He had a dustup with PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor for the second straight day, after calling her question about ventilators “threatening.”
On Monday she asked why the rate of virus testing in America lags behind such countries as South Korea, on a per capita basis, and when that might change.
Trump began by misstating the population of Seoul as 38 million (it’s actually about 10 million), then said this: “So rather than asking a question like that, you should congratulate the people that have done this testing, because we inherited this administration, inherited a broken system, a system that was obsolete. A system that didn’t work. It was okay for a tiny, small group of people but once you got beyond that, it didn’t work.” He later accused her of “a really snarky question.”
Alcindor tweeted Sunday about the “threatening” comment: “I’m not the first human being, woman, black person or journalist to be told that while doing a job.”
Trump called on another sparring partner, CNN’s Jim Acosta, who asked about his earlier, milder approach to the virus: “What do you say to Americans who believe that you got this wrong?”
Trump defended his past statements, claiming they were “all true” and the product of his efforts to “keep the country calm...I don’t want panic in the country. I could cause panic much better than even you. I would make you look like a minor league player.”
Over the past two weeks, the president has gone off on NBC’s Peter Alexander and accused the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal of siding with China.
Some media organizations have elevated Trump-bashing to a business model, and the president, having cut a $2-trillion deal with the Democrats, needs a foil. A cease-fire would be welcome in this perilous period, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Footnote: The irony isn’t lost on anyone: CNN anchor Chris Cuomo contracting the coronavirus, the announcement coming as his brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was conducting a televised briefing.
The governor said his “best friend” got the disease because he was in contact with people while doing his prime-time show, underscoring that the virus is a “great equalizer” that can hit anyone out in the community. Chris said he’ll keep doing his show while under quarantine in his basement and that he hopes not to infect his wife and kids.
Andrew Cuomo also revealed that he’d argued with his younger brother about having their elderly mother Matilda over to his house because she was lonely, potentially exposing her to the virus. The governor named a state measure aimed at protecting older people Matilda’s Law.
It was just the other day, on “Cuomo Prime Time,” that Chris kept asking Andrew if he might run for president, eliciting a terse series of “no” answers.