Each day at the daily press briefing — a misnomer given that “briefing” suggests a useful transmission of facts, not a staged rally for the benefit of the speaker’s ego — President Trump insults and berates the press. Female reporters are “nasty” or a “disgrace”; ABC News White House reporter Jonathan Karl is a “third-rate reporter.” Trump deflects, evades and mostly just lies about his own record, his current responsibilities, the course of the pandemic and other politicians. It is easy to come away with the impression that Trump is “winning” each of these encounters.

The polls say otherwise. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll echoes the results of other polls showing Trump’s “bump” in the polls is over and his approval is sliding downhill. “About 42% said they approved of how Trump was handling the crisis, down 6 points from a similar poll that ran last week.” The RealClearPolitics average show Trump is underwater on his handling of the pandemic: 45.6 percent approve of his performance while 50 percent disapprove.

How’s the media doing? A Pew Research poll finds that “54% of U.S. adults say the news media have done an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak.” Forty-six percent say the media’s response has been fair or poor. Americans who get their news from print and network TV (as opposed to Twitter or cable TV) rate the media’s performance even more positively. Among those who get their news primarily from network TV, 68 percent rate the media’s response as excellent or good; 66 percent who get their news from print outlets say the same. Only 41 percent of the crowd that gets it news from the least reliable sources — social media — think the media is doing an excellent or good job.

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong partisan element at work. The media, which accurately reported on the seriousness of the pandemic, is out of favor with Republicans. “Around two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (68%) — but just 37% of Republicans and GOP leaners say the media have been doing an excellent or good job responding to the outbreak.”

The coronavirus pandemic is the rare event that affects virtually every American directly. While a plot to extort Ukraine or efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation are serious assaults on the Constitution and democratic norms, they do not directly affect most Americans’ daily lives. But Americans now are personally and viscerally experiencing the covid-19 phenomenon, either because they or a loved one is sick or unemployed, or because they are cooped up at home and unable to share the holidays with friends and family. Except for the most deluded partisans, it is impossible to ignore the massive toll it has taken. When the mainstream media’s portrayal matches that lived experience and reflects what they see in their own communities, the media gains credibility.

By contrast, Americans can see for themselves Trump’s serial false assurances (The virus will disappear!), broken promises (We’ll be back to work by Easter!), inability to generate a forceful federal response and attacks on well-regarded mayors and governors who are trying to protect their constituents. His hard-core base, aided by sycophantic right-wing media, will try laying blame on others or attacking the messenger, but so far, it does not seem to be working. It might just mean the only thing that matters are the facts.

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