The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The most prominent voice at coronavirus briefings is the least trusted one: Trump’s

President Trump takes a question from a reporter during a coronavirus task force news conference at the White House on Thursday. (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg)

Each evening for the past several weeks, President Trump, officials from his administration and representatives of the White House coronavirus task force have assembled in the White House briefing room or in the Rose Garden to provide updates to the press on the coronavirus pandemic.

The most prominent voice in these briefings is almost always Trump’s. Unfortunately for any efforts to convey information to the public, Trump’s is also the least-trusted voice on the subject.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released on Thursday the results of a poll that asked Americans whom they trusted as a reliable source of information about the virus. Most respondents said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than three-quarters expressed trust specifically in Anthony S. Fauci, a leading official on the task force. State officials acting in response to the pandemic got high marks, as did the World Health Organization.

At the bottom of the pile were the news media and Trump himself, both of whom were trusted by less than half of respondents. Opinions on those sources of information included a big partisan divide, with Democrats being about twice as likely as Republicans to express confidence in the media, and Republicans being vastly more likely than Democrats to trust Trump.

At the briefings, the media’s role is to ask questions, pushing Trump and other officials for details on the government’s response to the pandemic. The information Trump himself provides has proven to be spotty, with a number of promises or assertions turning out not to be accurate. In part, that’s a function of his tendency to speak off the cuff, to dust his prepared remarks with asides aimed at exaggerating or emphasizing the points he intends to make.

(For an example of how this works, see the end of this article. We took Trump’s prepared remarks from Thursday’s hearing and identified the parts of what he actually said that appeared to be extemporaneous riffs.)

It’s often the case that Trump does most of the speaking, even though more-trusted sources — notably Fauci or Deborah Birx, another task force official — are often standing nearby. A review of the past five briefings shows that Trump generally speaks far more often than either Fauci or Birx. Often, it’s in response to questions from the press.

On some occasions, Fauci and Birx have relatively small roles in comparison to more tangential topics. On Wednesday, for example, the thrust of the briefing was on efforts to address drug trafficking during the pandemic. On Monday, Trump invited a number of business leaders to the lectern to speak to reporters. Those individuals spoke about four times as much as Fauci and Birx combined.

The day on which Fauci and Birx spoke the most was March 31, Tuesday, when the task force announced new estimates for the potential death toll of the pandemic in the United States. Birx in particular was tasked with presenting the grim data to the public, outlining that an optimistic estimate had the death toll north of six figures.

That estimate was later questioned by other experts. By Thursday, the original estimates had already been revised upward.

Trump’s comments on Thursday

Trump spoke relatively briefly at Thursday’s hearing, stepping out for a meeting shortly afterward. As usual, though, he peppered his prepared remarks with various asides, usually focused on emphasizing or embellishing a point. By observing his reading the remarks with his speaking directly to the audience, we have bolded parts of comments that he appeared to have made off the cuff.

Thank you very much.

Today, my administration is also issuing new guidelines to protect elderly Americans who remain the most vulnerable. By now, nursing homes should have suspended the entry of all medically unnecessary personnel. Today, we’re further recommending that all nursing home facilities assign the same staff to care for the same group of residents consistently to minimize any potential spread and we’re also urging facilities to designate separate areas for healthy and sick residents. And this is a practice that we probably will be recommending into the future, long after the enemy is gone — this particular enemy is gone.

We’re also making every effort to provide relief to our great veterans. We take very good care of our veterans. At my direction, Secretary Wilkie will use any authority at his disposal to extend deadlines for benefits and to postpone debt collections.

We’re now conducting well over 100,000 coronavirus tests per day — it’s over 1,000 — 100,000 tests a day, and these are accurate tests, and they’re moving rapidly — which is more than any other country in the world, both in terms of the raw number and also on a per capita basis, the most.

The FDA has also authorized the first coronavirus antibody test developed by Cellex, a key step that will help identify people who have recovered and to understand their immune response and their immune system. Moments ago, I directed Secretary Azar and acting secretary Wolf to use any and all available authority under the Defense Production Act to ensure that domestic manufacturers have the supplies they need to produce ventilators for patients with severe cases of C-O-V-I-D-19 — you know what that is, right? Become a very famous term — C-O-V-I-D, covid. This action will help General Electric, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips and Vyaire Medical overcome obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators. We have over 100,000 being built right now or soon to be started. We anticipate issuing more orders under the Defense Production Act in the very near future.

In addition to the one that I’ve just signed against 3M for face masks, we just signed a element of the act against 3M, and hopefully they’ll be able to do what they are supposed to do. Just spoke to Mary Berra of General Motors, and she said they are very soon going to be ready to start production of the ventilators. They have a lot of ventilators that they’ve committed to build, and they’ll be starting very, very quickly.

FEMA continues to deliver resources to areas most affected by the virus including New York. On top of the 3,000 beds we’re already providing to the Javits Center, the Department of Defense is adding another 48 ICU beds. Governor Cuomo has asked that this facility go — and it’s a big, beautiful facility — it be converted to a covid hospital. And we hadn’t done that yet, we hadn’t thought in terms of doing that but their use is — their real demand is for that, and we had meetings on it with the task force, we had meetings with the military. And I’ve decided to say yes, I’m going to do that, that I will be signing and agreeing to a yes answer so that we will be doing that, and also we will be staffing it so the federal government is doing a lot of things that wasn’t anticipated that it do. This is a 2,500 and/or 2,900 — can easily be set up — hospital built in Javits Center. And so we’re going to be converting that to a covid-19 hospital, and it’s going to be staffed by the military and by the federal government. And based on the fact that I agreed to that, we had two other facilities that were likewise asking for it. And that would be in Louisiana and also in Dallas, and we’ll be doing those.

We spoke to the governor of Louisiana, spoke to the governor of Texas and we’ve told them that we will be staffing those hospitals, again above and beyond, but that’s okay, we have to do that. In addition, the USNS Comfort is docked in New York to accept patients. That is a non-covid. To date, FEMA has delivered more than 4 million N95 masks, respirators and it’s — think of that, 4 million, 4 million. Don’t forget, we’re a secondary source. The states are doing it, and we’re backing them up, but we’ve gotten 4 million N95 respirators, 1.8 million surgical masks, 460,000 face shields, 1.4 million gloves and 4,400 ventilators, just to the city and to the state of New York. And some of them now are being sent — I spoke with both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio a little while ago, and some of them are being sent to the city.

All of America stands with the people of New York in this time of need. It’s definitely a hot spot, but we have other hot spots also. And we’re taking them — taking care of them very, very strongly, very powerfully. We have the finest people in the world in those locations, and I think the federal government has not only acted early, but acted quickly, professionally. There’s no people like this. Doctors, nurses, first responders and other health-care providers who want to help New York at this critical time should visit website, They need help now; they need people to help them. We have great facilities, and we’ve built some brand-new facilities, big ones, but we need help. We need help for professional people. So if you’re in an area that isn’t so affected, you’re a doctor, a nurse, a health-care worker, please get to that website and we would really appreciate your help. New York City needs it. Louisiana, by the way, needs it. Michigan needs it. Whatever you can do, those are very strong hot spots. They need help.

In recent weeks, as the virus has spread and economic hardship has followed, we have seen Americans unite with incredible selflessness and compassion. I want to remind everyone here in our nation’s capital, especially in Congress, that this is not the time for politics. Endless partisan investigations — here we go again — have already done extraordinary damage to our country in recent years. You see what happens, it’s witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt. And in the end, the people doing the witch hunt have been losing, and they’ve been losing by a lot. And it’s not any time for witch hunts. It’s time to get this enemy defeated. Conducting these partisan investigations in the middle of a pandemic is a really big waste of vital resources, time, attention. And we want to fight for American lives, not waste time and build up my poll numbers, because that’s all they’re doing because everyone knows it’s ridiculous. So we want to focus on the people of this country, even the people of the world. We’re going to be able to help them because right now is an example. We’re building so many ventilators. Very, very hard to build, but we’re building thousands, thousands of them. And a lot of them will be coming at a time where we won’t need them as badly because it takes time, very complex, very expensive. And we’ll be able to help outside of our country. We think we’ll be able to help. That’s something that you cannot easily produce.

As citizens, we’re linked together by the shared bonds of national love, loyalty and affection. There’s no earthly force more powerful than the patriotic pride that stirs in our hearts, and that is so true. It’s incredible, the job that everybody’s been doing, everybody. They don’t sleep, they don’t go to bed, sometimes they get nothing. Said to somebody recently on the task force, how many hours’ sleep have you gotten over the last couple of days? The answer was none, none.

In one Massachusetts neighborhood, citizens come out of their homes, each night at 8 o’clock, from their porches, and they sing, “God Bless America.” Others have joined in, spreading from house to house, down one street, up to the next until their little town, with a spirit of patriotism and reminding all Americans that we’re all in this together, we’ll fight together and we will win together. We’re going to win this.