In the 48 days since that first briefing, both the number of confirmed cases and the number of resulting deaths have increased steadily. So, too, has Trump’s time at the lectern. The president has spent more than 22 hours speaking during the briefings, often about the pandemic. The briefings themselves have lasted more than 48 hours overall, according to a tally from Factba.se, with Trump attending nearly all of each day’s briefing over the past month.
Both the duration of the briefings themselves and the length of Trump’s commentary have increased over that time. From March 17 to March 21, the briefings averaged about 80 minutes, with Trump speaking for about 35 minutes, or 43 percent of the briefings’ duration. The last five briefings have been an average of 110 minutes, with Trump at the microphone for 55 of them, doing about 47 percent of the talking.
Trump clearly enjoys the briefings, frequently celebrating a New York Times report from last month that compared the ratings from the briefings to television heavyweights like “Monday Night Football.” (The ratings appear to have since waned.) In the 10 briefings before that article came out, Trump averaged 37 minutes at the mic. In the 10 that followed, he averaged 51.
The president uses the briefings very much as he does his Twitter feed: as an opportunity to promote himself and his administration, and a chance to berate journalists and critics. At the outset of each, he’ll read prepared comments that contain information focused on the virus; from that point on, he usually defers technical questions to members of the White House coronavirus task force.
To put it another way, the utility of the briefings for conveying information of import to the public about the pandemic seems more limited than Trump’s embrace of the moments might suggest. To again put it charitably.