In the handling of the coronavirus, “Everything we did was right,” gloated Donald Trump in the White House press room on Monday. “Nobody has ever done a job like this.”
With all the bluster he could muster he was turning his daily media briefing into an alternative-reality boast-a-thon. News media claims of six weeks of dithering, he claimed, were completely fake.
Remarkably, Mr. Trump was taking a victory lap even though the United States has done far worse than other nations in containing the virus. Per capita, there are three times as many deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. as in Canada, and twice as many confirmed cases. Of the first 150 countries in a list by Real Clear Politics, about 140 of them at this writing had fewer deaths for every million people than the U.S.
No matter. Mr. Trump’s been right all along, the media wrong.
What set the spin-king off was a blockbuster report on the weekend from a team of six New York Times reporters that provided chapter and verse on his laggard response to the pandemic. He Could Have Seen What Was Coming, it was titled, Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.
It’s critical that he refute this story and other reports like it. Whoever’s version of the truth wins out – his or the fourth estate’s – could well determine the election outcome.
Convincing voters of media bias against him is essential. On that score, the press is far from saintly, and Mr. Trump does have material to work with.
The Russian collusion story consumed the media for more than two years. There were countless ominous-sounding accounts of Mr. Trump in cahoots with the Russians to rig the election. Turned out there wasn’t much there.
Then followed the media overdosing, as conservatives saw it, on a strictly partisan impeachment inquiry. While much incriminatory evidence came to light on Mr. Trump’s trying to extort Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, it failed to strike a chord with the public.
This was, of course, the same media that claimed Mr. Trump could never win the 2016 election.
He and his Republicans see overt partisanship. They rightly ask how many panelists on the blatantly biased CNN and CNBC are of liberal, compared with conservative, persuasion. They correctly slot the two most influential newspapers in the country, The New York Times and The Washington Post, in the liberal block.
The media vigorously complained when Mr. Trump ended the tradition of the daily White House press briefing. He’s now doing daily press briefings himself and they still complain – to the point of cable networks such as CNN cutting away.
The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was helpful to the Canadian side on trade negotiations, is being bashed mercilessly on account of nepotism. How about Bobby Kennedy, conservatives ask. Wasn’t he appointed attorney-general without ever having practised law?
All this makes it easier, as ABC news correspondent Jonathan Karl says in his book First Row at the Trump Show, for the President to cast the media not as neutral conveyors of information but as his opposition party. His political base laps it up.
It’s all very rich of course coming from the disseminator of more disinformation, fabrications and torrents of deceit than several presidents combined.
While there have been examples of media partisanship, Mr. Trump has earned the lion’s share of his negative coverage. The reporting in the great majority of instances has held up to scrutiny. Truth is not biased.
Insulting the intelligence of the public with a daily diet of cock and bull (The Washington Post has counted 18,000 false or misleading claims during the Trump presidency) would not win favourable coverage from the most neutral and objective press corps imaginable.
On the matter of his daily briefings, the usually sympathetic Wall Street Journal complained of how Mr. Trump turned them – with the country in extreme crisis – into a vanity show. The President has even taken to railing at Fox News for being insufficiently pliant.
He’s shamelessly playing the role of disinformation king and, as evidenced by his Monday performance, effective at it.
Doubtless millions of Americans watching believed at least half the hokum.
Only the media, which is, in fact, an opposition party, can hold him to account. To help him prevail, Mr. Trump needs the kind of supine coverage accorded to former president George W. Bush’s war-provoking fictional claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
He’s not going to get it.
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