Earlier this month, we reported Trump was particularly poorly suited to be the lead voice for the country on this subject. Polling from Kaiser Family Foundation established that, of the possible vectors for information from the administration, Trump was the least trusted to provide reliable information on the coronavirus pandemic. The media didn’t do great, either, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Anthony S. Fauci, a leading authority on Trump’s task force, were broadly seen as trustworthy.
A Washington Post analysis of the briefings since April 6, though, found 60 percent of the time during which administration officials and guests of the White House spoke at the briefings was spent with Trump at the lectern. Vice President Pence, head of the task force, constituted about 13 percent of the total. Fauci and Deborah Birx, another medical expert on the task force, combined for about 14 percent. A slew of others, mostly officials working on distribution of materials or testing expansion, made up the other 12 percent.
Take Trump out of the mix? Suddenly, two-thirds of the time in which officials were at the mic was occupied by Pence, Birx and Fauci — none of whom have kicked up storms of controversy by focusing on untested medications or by offering off-the-cuff proposals for curing the virus.
In fact, our analysis shows it was the non-Trump speakers to whom questions were often addressed. Eighty questions were posed to a participant in the briefings besides Trump during the period we looked at, a bit under a fifth of the total. Of course, Trump often couldn’t resist chiming in with additions of his own. On 28 of those 80 occasions, Trump chimed in as well.
In total, the questions posed to non-Trump officials at the briefings over those three weeks resulted in more than two hours of responses — more than half of which came from Trump’s contributions.
Nonetheless, that’s an hour of hearing from experts, officials or others who presumably fare significantly better than Trump on the critical metric of trust. What’s more, Trump walking away from the briefings probably would mean Pence would field the questions otherwise offered to the president — presumably leading to a somewhat less contentious and more constrained set of responses.
The answer to Trump’s question is simple. The reason the government should have briefings about the coronavirus is to share information, updates and guidance from a centralized resource in a dangerous moment. The obstruction to that outcome may lie less with the reporters seeking to clarify what was offered and more with the source of 60 percent of the offerings.