During his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney claimed that the media was skewing coverage of coronavirus so as to damage President Trump’s political prospects. “The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president,” Mulvaney said.

Fran Finnegan, who lives in the San Francisco suburbs, was among the CPAC attendees quizzed by the Erik Wemple Blog about Mulvaney’s remarks. Would the media really do something this underhanded? Would it goose its coronavirus stories to hurt Trump’s chances at reelection? “Oh, absolutely. Part of the media. ... The liberal left media like your organization, New York Times, you know — that kind of stuff. The networks,” Finnegan said, adding that “to some extent” media bias affects the coverage of a potential pandemic.

Since returning home from CPAC, Finnegan has had cause to dig deeper into all things coronavirus. Last Tuesday, his wife started feeling ill, with symptoms including shortness of breath and coughing. This was extraordinary: In 32 years of marriage, says Finnegan, his wife had gotten sick once. “All of a sudden on Tuesday she started feeling terrible,” he recalls.

The symptoms persisted into Thursday, so the Finnegans went to the emergency room. “They were aware of the coronavirus thing, but they didn’t think the symptoms were enough that it was the coronavirus,” says Finnegan, whose wife also attended CPAC.

On Saturday, the Finnegans received word through a mass email from the American Conservative Union that an attendee at the conference had tested positive for coronavirus. “The exposure occurred previous to the conference. A New Jersey hospital tested the person, and CDC confirmed the positive result,” reads the email, which goes on to say, “During this time, we need to remain calm, listen to our health care professionals, and support each other.”

Listening to our health-care professionals, of course, is easiest when you can contact them. After reading the ACU email, the Finnegans called the emergency room with this additional information. They were told, however, that the emergency room didn’t do coronavirus testing — best to contact a doctor or the county health department. Finnegan says the couple couldn’t reach a doctor over the weekend, so they attempted to get someone from Contra Costa County on the line. By Monday evening, those attempts had failed.

They finally got through to a doctor, though no luck there, either. They got word that the doctor was ill-equipped to handle a potential coronavirus patient with symptoms. “All of a sudden, she’s really sick, and there’s no one you can turn to to get tested,” says Finnegan, who adds that the state of California “really messed up on this.”

The Erik Wemple Blog on Tuesday discussed the situation with Rohan Radhakrishna, deputy health officer at Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Last week, Radhakrishna says, the county tested 40 people per day, all in compliance with the screening guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The criteria are laid out here. “People who are two or three degrees removed from a possible unknown contact who don’t have all the required symptoms do not merit testing,” Radhakrishna says, though he notes that the testing situation changes every few days or so.

The Finnegans, in other words, had moved straight from CPAC into the country’s coronavirus testing crunch. “Anybody who wants a test gets a test,” Trump said last Friday in one of his optimistic pronouncements about coronavirus. Realities in the actual U.S. health-care system are less utopian; a doctor or a health official must prescribe a test, said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar in a briefing. Problem is, there aren’t enough of them. The CDC botched its initial attempt to produce test kits, and authorities are now hustling to meet ever-increasing demand.

After wading through this health industry thicket, Finnegan says he still trusts Trump over the media as a source of information on coronavirus. “The whole thing is murky, and it’s changing a lot every day, but if I had to pick one, I’d say Trump,” he says. As for the media’s alleged skewing of the coronavirus story, Finnegan says he still believes that has happened. However: “I don’t oppose it in any way. You have to sell papers in a sense, and there’s nothing else much going on,” he says. “I will tell you also that I think this is possibly more serious, so it’s all right if the media overhypes it at this point.”

And what about Trump’s claim about anybody who wants a test, gets a test? It seems that Finnegan’s own experience contradicts this presidential boast. “He’s a big-picture guy and I don’t hold that against him,” says the 68-year-old Finnegan. “You have to have lived in New York to understand Trump,” he says. “New Yorkers say things in a certain way and you have to have been there to understand what they’re really saying.”

The Erik Wemple Blog interviewed other CPAC attendees who endorsed Mulvaney’s analysis. William Rodebaugh of Philadelphia told us at the conference he’d trust the president to tell the truth about the crisis. Trump “doesn’t need the money. The Washington Post needs the press, needs the money,” Rodebaugh said. When contacted on Monday, he stuck to his guns, complimenting Trump and his aides for “taking action.” “The media isn’t doing anything but reporting,” he said.

Hank Foley, a CPAC attendee and president of Race Fans for Trump 2020, also told us in a follow-up interview, “I definitely trust the president over the media. I think things are changing constantly, and I think the CDC and the president’s team are adapting to the changes, working on the vaccinations.”

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