The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s latest attack on the media is more heinous than usual

During a coronavirus news conference on March 19, President Trump slammed the media, calling them “fake” and “corrupt." (Video: The Washington Post)

One of the occupational hazards that comes with closely following President Trump is that the typical daily stream of malice and depravity has a numbing effect, rendering us incapable of finding adequate language to capture the very worst degradations that come along.

Case in point: Trump appeared perfectly comfortable on Thursday with the idea, expressed to him by a friendly journalist, that major U.S. news organizations are actively shaping their coverage of the coronavirus in conspiracy with hostile foreign state propaganda.

This generated some Twitter traffic, but it’s not being treated as significantly newsworthy.

The exchange came after someone from the One America News Network, a far-right outlet that Trump loves, served up a laughably disingenuous question that pretended Trump uses the phrase “Chinese virus” solely to neutrally describe its geographic origins.

You can watch the full exchange right here.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

[More coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

The reporter asked whether it’s “alarming” that “major media players” are “consistently siding with foreign state propaganda” by criticizing Trump’s xenophobic demagoguing of the virus.

Trump didn’t disagree with this, and then launched a long, self-pitying rant about how unfair the coverage of his response to coronavirus has been.

“I know the truth,” Trump said, suggesting that “people out there in the world” were being misled by the press about how smoothly the response has unfolded, and what a calming effect he was actually having. (No, really, he said that.)

“We have unbelievable professionals,” Trump said, concluding that reporting on the coronavirus response is “more than fake news — it’s corrupt news.”

It’s a laughable suggestion that Trump’s “Chinese virus” rhetoric is meant to do anything other than whip up xenophobic nationalist panic to mask his own disastrous ongoing failures.

I should note that there are more “sophisticated” versions of the argument that Trump is making here. But they’re also mostly nonsense, as I tried to demonstrate the other day.

The truly despicable nature of these particular attacks on the news media continues to elude appreciation. The reason this is so heinous is that Trump is trying to discredit the news media precisely because it is reporting aggressively on, and shedding light on, his own government’s failures in the face of one of the most extraordinary calamities this country has faced.

It’s telling that in his rant, Trump was incapable of conceiving of such reporting as nothing more than an effort to “catch something” that will hurt him. Trump cannot conceive of the notion that reporting on his own administration’s failings might have some intrinsic value, in that we might all learn from it and do better going forward.

Needless to say, Trump is also incapable of imagining that the public might be entitled to such knowledge about those failings as a matter of basic accountability.

Trump is using his presidential megaphone to tell Americans not to believe the news media at a time when it is playing the vital role of bringing them the information they need to organize their lives in response to an ongoing public health emergency. This, even though the media spent weeks sounding the alarm about the depths of the threat in a way that filled the informational void left by Trump and his administration. For weeks Trump refused to inform the public forthrightly, all because he feared it would harm his reelection prospects, which in turn hampered the response in untold ways, leading to untold future consequences.

It’s sometimes said Trump and his allies deliberately use the “Chinese virus” frame to bait Democrats and the media into criticizing him for it. And yes, one can easily see top adviser Stephen Miller planting a question like this one to tee up Trump’s response.

But if so, the underlying premise of that would be that Trump actually thinks a dispute over his use of xenophobic demagoguery to distract from his own epic failures plays in his favor. That premise is itself pretty despicable.

And it’s almost certainly false. Joe Biden’s recent speech, which offered expansive criticism of Trump’s demagoguing of this crisis and argued that this very mindset itself represents a massive and destructive abdication of domestic and international leadership, will probably be more persuasive to the American mainstream than Trump’s so-called arguments.

Regardless, Trump’s latest display — which bundled together in one tidy package the xenophobic fear-mongering with the pathological refusal to accept responsibility for his own role in this ongoing disaster — just adds another layer of depravity to it all.

The Opinions section is looking for stories of how the coronavirus has affected people of all walks of life. Write to us.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: How the coronavirus crisis could make Biden a better president

Alexandra Petri: Why is the media accurately reporting my coronavirus actions just to be mean?

Jason Rezaian: Iran’s biggest holiday of the year is about to make its pandemic even worse

Mitch Daniels: The bright spots amid the darkness of the coronavirus

Gershom Gorenberg: With a pandemic as cover, Netanyahu is carrying out a coup in Israel

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.