A few examples from today’s shambolic press conference illustrate the problem:
A reporter asked Trump why there is a gap between things he says (e.g., millions of tests) and what happens in reality. Trump says he hears “good things” are happening on the ground. No one asks: Well, how can we trust anything you say? Why do you say things that are demonstrably not true?
Trump persists in rewriting history. He argues that things would be better if we had acted earlier but that no one knew the seriousness of the problem. Alternatively, he says, “We were very prepared. The only thing we weren’t prepared for was the media.” No one asks: Until last week you were calling reports documenting the problem “fake news,” so how can you say others did not see this? Did no one in your administration read press accounts of the situation in China and understand the virus would travel here? If you were prepared, why do we have a shortage of tests and medical supplies? Did you not know it was a pandemic, or did you know and not do anything?
Trump gives out blatantly false information (e.g., calling chloroquine a “game changer” to treat coronavirus) only to be contradicted by his own administration. No one asks: You just said something that is wrong according to the Food and Drug Administration. Are you not up to date?
Trump seems to not know what measures he has signed actually do (e.g., the federal Defense Production Act). Today, he insisted the federal government is not a “shipping clerk,” so it is up to the states to act. No one asks: Isn’t the act specifically designed for the federal government to convert factories? What did you sign on Wednesday? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today called on you to “immediately use the powers of the Defense Production Act to mass produce and coordinate distribution of these critical supplies, before the need worsens and the shortages become even more dire,” so why haven’t you done that?
Trump says people are “getting better.” No one asks: Aren’t cases (now more than 10,000) and fatalities increasing exponentially?
He smears the press by accusing The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal “of doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. They are siding with many others; China is the least of it. So why, why they’re doing this, you’ll have to ask them. If we had an honest media in this country, our country would be an even greater place.” No one asks: What the heck are you talking about?
Simply because Trump moves on to another reporter is no reason why that journalist cannot ask obvious follow-up questions posed by the previous questioner. The lack of assertive fact-checking in real time allows the president not only to escape accountability but to misinform the American people in the midst of a national emergency. Moreover, he is revealing he has no idea what is going on (cases are exploding), what powers he has and what urgent issues states are confronting, such as a shortage of masks. The media never manages to convey that lack of confusion and dishonesty to Americans.
More than three years into the Trump presidency, you might hope that the media figured out how to convey the degree to which Trump is entirely out of touch and ill-equipped to handle a deadly pandemic of massive proportions. You would be wrong.