Given the ever-escalating attacks from Trump & Co. on the media, it’s a challenge to take the alarmism to a new level. Once the boss has called news organizations the “enemy of the people,” after all, what greater slander is there?

In an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., on Friday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney may have staked out some lower ground. Coverage of the spread of coronavirus, Mulvaney suggested, hinges on political calculations relating to President Trump’s standing. The Trump administration was taking strong actions against coronavirus several weeks ago, he argued. “Why didn’t you hear about it? What was still going on four to five weeks ago? Impeachment, and that’s all the press wanted to talk about,” said Mulvaney. “So while real news was happening, and we were dealing with it in a way that I think you folks would be extraordinarily proud of and that was serving the nation extraordinarily well, the press was covering their hoax of the day because they thought it would bring down the president. The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this going to be what brings down the president.”

So the charge here is that the media calibrated its coverage of a public health matter for political ends.

CPAC attendees interviewed by the Erik Wemple Blog expressed little dissent from Mulvaney’s theory. “Sure they would,” said Chicagoan Terrence Wirtz, 62, when asked whether the media would skew its coronavirus to serve an anti-Trump political agenda. “They’ve equated him with Adolf Hitler, why wouldn’t they try to do that? … Anything to get rid of President Donald Trump." Fox News, says Wirtz, would play the story “straight.”

Socialism and Democrats' attempts to remove President Trump from office were major talking points at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. (The Washington Post)

When asked whether the media would really mess with its coronavirus coverage to embarrass Trump, Kenneth Crater, 48, chuckled. “He’s got a 93-percent negative coverage [rating],” said Crater, of King George, Va. “I wouldn’t put anything past them,” he said.

As for trustworthy sources of information on coronavirus, Philadelphian William Rodebaugh says, “I would have to trust the president of the United States to tell us the truth about it. ... I would trust any president of the United States to tell you the truth about a crisis that’s happening. If he doesn’t, then he actually wouldn’t deserve to be the president of the United States.”

At which point, we noted that The Post has counted north of 16,000 false or misleading claims from Trump. “Would I trust the Washington Post? ... [Trump] doesn’t need the money. The Washington Post needs the press, needs the money," said Rodebaugh.

Bonnie O’Neil said “of course” the media would rig coverage of coronavirus. “They’re going to damage Trump any chance they get," she told the Erik Wemple Blog. When asked for examples, O’Neil said she doesn’t pay attention to the mainstream media. And what source of information would she trust on such a topic? O’Neil cited her company, which is involved in science, she said.

Except: There is a record of coronavirus coverage going back to the early weeks of 2020, and it brims with stories from the New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, the Guardian, Bloomberg, and on and on. The idea that China correspondents for the major media outlets twiddled their thumbs in deference to impeachment coverage is, well, just the sort of supposition we’ve come to expect from the Trump White House.

Dig deep on CNN alone: Transcripts show that coronavirus coverage shared space alongside impeachment. Here’s a rundown of segments on the Jan. 30 edition of “New Day,” the CNN morning news program. Sure, there’s heavy impeachment coverage, as you’d expect from a historic Senate process. But note the other stories in the mix:

Coverage of coronavirus has followed a logical trajectory. As the outbreak grew in China and broke out into the rest of the world, news organizations have given more and more attention to it. Alarm bells from countries such as France, Iran and Italy — as this timeline shows — postdated Trump’s Feb. 5 acquittal in the Senate.

And so is Trump, who on Saturday announced a news conference to update the country on the latest:

With that same Twitter account, Trump on Thursday ripped CNN for skewing coronavirus coverage:

At this point, one scientific projection appears safe: Such attacks will outlive coronavirus.

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