“I think a lot of the media actually has been very fair,” he added Monday. “I think people are pulling together on this. I really think the media has been very fair.”
Interspersed between all of that, of course, have been his regular attacks on much of the media — which he re-upped Tuesday.
Trump’s comments Saturday notably came after a record one-day leap in the stock market, which Trump happily took credit for. And nobody should believe Trump is suddenly going to fall in love with the journalists he has regularly derided as the “enemy of the American people” and has gotten great political leverage out of demonizing.
But something else Trump said Tuesday about media coverage came close to a moment of clarity on all of this. While talking about the administration’s alleged achievements, he said this:
“The only thing we haven’t done well is to get good press. We’ve done a fantastic job, but it hasn’t been appreciated. … The press doesn’t like writing about it. So we’ve done a poor job on press relationships. You know, I guess I don’t know who to blame for that. I don’t know. Maybe I can blame ourselves for that. I will blame ourselves. But I think we’ve done a great job. I think we’ve done a poor job in terms of press relationship.”
That’s true — but not perhaps for the reasons Trump seems to have identified. The reason press coverage of Trump on the coronavirus has been so tough is because he spent weeks playing down its potential impact, and his comments have been repeatedly contradicted by his own top health officials. They also led many Trump supporters, including those on Fox News, to go even further than Trump in suggesting the threat was some kind of “hoax.” The whole thing has led many Republicans to not take the situation seriously.
When there is such misinformation, wild claims and conflicting accounts, it’s the media’s job to note that and to try to sift through the discrepancies. The purpose of that kind of coverage is to inform, yes, but also to encourage the people running the country to get their stories straight and to stop confusing the American people. And perhaps because of both that coverage and the increasing severity of the outbreak, Trump seems to have adjusted his tone — at least for now. That very change in tone is a tacit acknowledgment that Trump was getting it wrong.
Of course, that’s not something Trump is going to readily concede. He said at the same briefing Tuesday that he didn’t feel he had actually changed his tone and that there wasn’t something specific that prompted a course correction on his part.
“I have seen that where people actually liked [Monday’s press briefing], but I didn’t feel different,” he said. “I’ve always known this is a, this is a real — this is a pandemic. I felt there was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
He added, “I’ve always viewed it as very serious.”
That, of course, just isn’t true. The Fix has assembled a litany of quotes from Trump playing down the coronavirus threat and suggesting that it might one day magically disappear. Trump also disputed Monday that he had ever said his administration had “control” of the virus, even though he said they had things under control no fewer than five times.
So Trump seems to think this boiled down to a communications problem, in which he and his team just weren’t good enough at describing what they were doing and pointing to their successes. There is perhaps something to be said for that, but the real problem is the slow rollout of testing and the fact that Trump was broadcasting from a very different wavelength than those around him were.
At the very least, he seems to be digesting the fact that some fault for his poor coronavirus coverage lies inside his administration and his White House — if not with himself. Tuesday’s briefing again suggested he has changed his tone somewhat, even as it still featured plenty of credit-seeking and political score-settling. Nobody should predict that this will be the case in perpetuity, but just as the media criticized him for being so off-message all these weeks, it should note when he rights the ship to some extent.
Trump’s apparent effort to ingratiate himself with the press is somewhat transparent. But at least he recognizes there is value in improving the messaging and says he is reflecting inward. We’ll see whether that leads to the right improvements and a more prolonged improvement. Keep a specific eye on whether polling suggests his base starts to take this more seriously.