When President Trump — out of nowhere ― suggested a quarantine of New York and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, the media took him seriously and literally. Headlines and cable TV news chyrons screamed variations on “Trump Weighing Quarantine!”

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) took a different approach. Asked at his daily news conference if he had spoken to Trump about the quarantine as the president claimed, Cuomo said he had talked about approving four new temporary hospitals and the arrival of the Navy hospital ship Comfort, but not the quarantine. He calmly replied, “I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable.” Cuomo added, "From a medical point of view, I don’t know what you would be accomplishing. I don’t even like the sound of it.” You see, Cuomo knows this is likely another half-baked Trump gimmick to stir up ratings, another reality-TV episode.

Trump predictably announced Saturday evening that a quarantine would not be necessary. Of course it wouldn’t; in all likelihood, the idea was never seriously considered. On its face, as Cuomo suggested, it was ludicrous.

The media should be less gullible in taking Trump’s pronouncements seriously. When Trump complains that governors who want more help need to show more appreciation, the media dutifully repeat the statement, as if this is more than a narcissist’s idle threat. Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer (referred to by the president as the “woman governor”), essentially ignored Trump. She tweeted:

Likewise, in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) was dismissive at his news conference. The Post reports:

[Inslee] responded to President Trump’s comments that some governors are not grateful enough for federal assistance in battling the novel coronavirus, saying, “I don’t recall, in the oath of office, saying, ‘I’ll do my job to protect the citizens of Washington state as long as I get enough love.’ ” ...
Inslee on Saturday said that “insults aren’t going to stop us from working together. That includes FEMA, the Department of Health and the vice president, with whom I’ve had quite a number of good discussions."

Rather than treating Trump’s outbursts as new conditions or serious proposals, governors have learned to simply dismiss them and point out that the latest utterance is impractical and/or illegal. The media should stop hyping these statement to a Category 5 emergency; instead, they should focus on how out of touch the president is and how irrelevant he is to the day-to-day actions of governors and the rest of the Trump administration.

Trump says all sorts of ridiculous things, many of them contradictory. He’ll force the country to reopen! (How, since the states are the ones that closed nonessential business?) But wait, he is actually going to quarantine three states! (That doesn’t sound like he is poised to fill the churches by Easter.) One day, he insists there is no need for 30,000 ventilators; the very next day, he says he is ordering General Motors to produce them. Trump threatens to disregard statutory language regarding oversight of the $500 billion coronavirus fund for big business. But will he, or is this another attention-grabbing declaration meant to stir controversy (even at the risk of criticism that it would be a lawless invitation to corruption)?

When Trump says such things, serious journalists should: 1. point out how abnormal (if not illegal) such conduct would be; 2. note how, if carried out, the presidential directive would be disastrous; 3. remind readers/viewers that he regularly does this sort of thing to sow chaos; and 4. then report what is actually taking place.

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In the midst of the worst domestic crisis in memory, Trump is acting like a petulant child. Governors, like smart adults, tell him no and then ignore him, depriving him of attention. They know he is jerking their chain, but they are far too busy fighting for their constituents’ lives and economic survival to pay Trump much heed. The press would be wise to do the same: Stop treating his crazy outbursts as serious ideas and start explaining that the real, constructive work is achieved despite him, not because of him. It would help if the media chose not to cover live his news conferences, which are founts of misinformation. Instead, give him a few paragraphs on an inside page under “Meaningless and Silly Things Trump Said Today.”

Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health. (The Washington Post)

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