The coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for President Donald Trump to hold the political rallies he loves so much. But he’s found a substitute of sorts with daily White House coronavirus briefings that have quickly descended into farce.
Viewers were instead treated to a variety show featuring absurdly over-the-top deification of the president, quips about his hair, infomercials for numerous private companies, the promotion of unproven drugs, and verbal sparring sessions with reporters.
The briefing came a day after Trump posted unsettling tweets bragging about the TV ratings of the press conferences, which are only necessary because his government bungled its preparations for a deadly pandemic.
While Trump once used the briefings to announce new policies, recently they have featured more misinformation and aggrandizement than news. Monday’s was the least newsworthy conference to date, and will only bolster growing arguments that cable networks (and the public at large) would be best served to ignore them.
“God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on”
While a number of state governors plead with the Trump administration to do more to provide them with ventilators and other needed medical gear on a large scale, Trump has used the White House briefings to showcase executives from private companies who are stepping in to fill the role the federal government would usually take in responding to a public health crisis. On Monday, it was MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s turn to receive the informercial treatment.
To his credit, as the coronavirus crisis has worsened, Lindell’s company has pivoted from pillows to making masks for health care workers. That’s praiseworthy, and ostensibly the reason Trump brought him to the White House.
“God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” Lindell said at the end of his remarks.
“God had been taken out of our schools and lives, a nation had turned its back on God. I encourage you to use this time at home to get back in the word.
Read our Bible.”
Lindell’s comments came at the end of the pre-questions portion of the briefing. Instead of leveling with the American people about the coronavirus, Trump spoke at length about unproven remedies (“Bayer has donated one million doses of the chloroquine”), promoted new coronavirus tests in a QVC-like manner, and complimented himself on his hair’s performance in the Rose Garden wind (“My hair is blowing around.
And it is mine”).
“I know South Korea better than anybody”
Among the first questions Trump took was one from the ultra-sycophantic One America News Network (OAN). As they’ve done in previous briefings, on Monday an OAN staffer served up a loaded question, in this case asking Trump to talk about a false equivalency she drew between coronavirus deaths and abortions.
One of the more informative moments of the briefing came a short time later, when Dr.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, took the mic to correct the record about the hope Trump expressed that the coronavirus perhaps might not flare up again in the fall, even if the outbreak we’re currently dealing with is brought under control before then.
The event wound down with Trump sparring with two of his longtime media foes — Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour and Jim Acosta of CNN. Acosta asked Trump what his message is to people who are upset about the fact he spent weeks downplaying the coronavirus instead of preparing for it, but Trump dismissed the question and then went on the attack.
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. But you know what, I don’t want to do that.
After taking a question asking him to explain the accusations he made the day before about nurses and New York officials misappropriating medical gear — “I expressed what was told to me by a tremendous power in the business,” Trump said, citing an unnamed source despite the fact that he’s attacked reports for citing unnamed sources as recently as Saturday — the president called on Alcindor.
“You said several times that the United States has ramped up testing, but the United States is still not testing per capita as many people as other countries like South Korea,” Alcindor said.
“Why is that?”
“Do you know how many people are in Seoul? Do you know how big the city of Seoul is? 38 million people. That’s bigger than anything we have.
As my colleague Matthew Yglesias has argued, to the extent they’re trying to inform viewers about the coronavirus instead of just entertaining them, cable networks should probably stop broadcasting them live, and instead highlight the newsworthy parts later.
On days like Monday, that would mean more or less ignoring them altogether.
They provide him with some of his largest TV audiences to date — a fact not hugely surprising given public interest in a pandemic that has put their families at risk, but one that Trump has bragged about nonetheless.
The news moves fast.
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