“In times of struggle we see the true greatness of the American character."

— President Trump, quoted in his campaign’s web ad, “Hope,” released March 27, 2020

President Trump was slow to respond to the emergence of a novel coronavirus, often reassuring Americans that the situation was under control. When confirmed cases and deaths started to spike at the end of March, his presidential election campaign released a video intended to show Trump getting the job done and earning bipartisan praise.

But as always with these campaign videos, the little snippets can be misleading. So let’s deconstruct this ad.

The Facts

We will examine some of the images in the order they are presented. We put in bold the snippets used by the ad.

“The president is talking about hope for people.”

— Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Fauci, the highly respected doctor who has advised every president since Ronald Reagan, sounds like he’s praising Trump. But this clip is from when he was subtly disagreeing with the president for touting the theory that anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine could be an effective treatment for covid-19. Fauci kept noting that despite some anecdotal reports of success, there was no clinical evidence that the drug would work, even though Trump called it a “game-changer.”

“I’m not totally sure what the president was referring to,” Fauci told reporters after Trump kept tweeting about hydroxychloroquine. “Many of the things out there are what I have called ‘anecdotal reports.’ They may be true, but they’re anecdotal … The president is talking about hope for people.” He added that as a medical professional he first wanted to know whether scientific evidence showed the drug was safe and effective.

“He said everything that I could have hoped for.”

— California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D)

Newsom was referring to the federal government’s help with the docking of the infected cruise ship Grand Princess. Unlike some other governors, Newsom has tried not to be openly critical of Trump. “When things haven’t gone as expected, Newsom has opted against stoking the mercurial president’s fires,” the Los Angeles Time reported. “On Saturday, the governor traveled to San Jose to praise the work of a Silicon Valley energy company that is refurbishing ventilators. And he mentioned — somewhat subtly — that some 170 devices the federal government sent to Los Angeles County aren’t usable in their current form."

“He is being the kind of leader that people need."

— Dana Bash of CNN

Her voice starts with an image of Trump in the Rose Garden from his March 13 news conference, where he said he had no responsibility for the slow ramp-up of testing but did take credit for the relatively low death count of 40. “We have 40 people right now,” he said. “Forty. Compare that with other countries that have many, many times that amount.” (By the time the video was released two weeks later, the death toll was over 1,500.)

Bash was speaking after a news conference four days later, when Trump’s tone suddenly shifted. Her remarks concerned his tone — so different from the news conference on March 13. She was not talking about him as a leader.

“I mean, look, this is just coming back to where this conversation started after the news conference. I hear what Sanjay is saying about Tony Fauci giving, you know, a little bit more wiggle room than others. But if you look at the big picture, this was remarkable from the president of the United States. This is a nonpartisan, this is an important thing to note and to applaud from an American standpoint, from a human standpoint. He is being the kind of leader that people need at least in tone today and yesterday, in tone that people need and want and yearned for in times of crisis and uncertainty.”

“I can tell you the actions he has taken, his team has been on it."

— New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D)

With some clever editing, two words are removed from Cuomo’s comments on March 17 to give a different impression. Cuomo has often been blunt about when he feels the federal government is failing to help the state:

“I think the president was 100 percent sincere in saying that he wanted to work together in partnership, in a spirit of cooperation. I can tell you the actions he has taken evidence that. His team has been on it. I know a team when they’re on it, and I know a team when they’re not on it. His team is on it.”

In other words, Cuomo is talking about the Trump team’s “spirit of cooperation,” not their overall performance in the crisis.

“They’re doing things that have never been done before.”

— U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams

Adams says this as an image of Trump and Vice President Pence — from 2017! — appears on the screen. But Adams was talking about the Commissioned Corps officers, not Trump.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President. Today, you heard a wonderful announcement from the FDA, and I just want to give a shout-out to Steve — Dr. Hahn — and the folks at the FDA, where about — where several hundred of my Commissioned Corps officers work. You’re right, Mr. President, they are tireless. They’re doing things that have never been done before to bring the most — most prudent advances to the American people.”

“This is record time for the development of a vaccine.”

— Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn

There is no vaccine yet. When Hahn made this statement, he said the FDA hoped to be able to approve a vaccine in 12 months. Whether that goal can be reached is unclear.

“The one that really deserves the credit are the American people.”

— Trump

This truncated quote misses the full context of Trump’s remarks on March 20, which were bit more Trumpian:

“But we inherited a broken, old — frankly, a terrible system. We fixed it and we’ve done a great job. And we haven’t been given the credit that we deserve — that, I can tell you. But the one that really deserves the credit are the American people because they are doing things that nobody thought they would do.”

“We’re gonna get through this, and come out stronger than ever before.”

— Pence

There’s another 2017 image of Trump. And then Pence is actually quoting Trump.

“I did hear one story this morning, Mr. President, about a senior named Geneva Wood. She actually is at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. She is not only a grandmother, she is a great-great-grandmother. Ninety years young, and she tested positive for the coronavirus on March 6th. But by all accounts, she’s doing well and she wanted America to know there is hope. And her strength and her enthusiasm is truly an inspiration to the nation. As the president said many times, we’re going to get through this and come out stronger than ever before. And we’ll get through this as Americans, together.”

We flagged these examples to the Trump campaign and received this response from Trump campaign spokesman Zack Parkinson: “President Trump has taken unprecedented action to combat the coronavirus, mobilizing the entire U.S. government to stop the spread of this disease and save American lives. As he has made clear, this fight is not only about providing medical supplies, tests, and assistance to those who need it, but also about coming together as a country and delivering a message of hope to the American people that we will prevail. Many Governors, public health experts, and even media commentators have recognized that leadership, as the Trump campaign’s ad shows.”

The Pinocchio Test

These are actual quotes but in the video they are so truncated and mixed together that overall it leaves a misleading impression. Fauci and Adams were not praising Trump, Bash was talking about Trump’s tone, and Newsom and Cuomo were talking about discrete events, not the president’s overall performance.

The Trump campaign earns Two Pinocchios.

Two Pinocchios

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The Washington Post Fact Checker is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.