Beginning Saturday night and continuing into Sunday night, Trump unleashed grievances, boasts and patently false assertions. It was an unfiltered reminder that however legitimate any of his quibbles with the media may be, Trump doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to casting blame for inaccuracies.
The fusillade began later Saturday night, when Trump began reasserting his false claim that the United States has tested more people than have other countries combined.
“Just passed 5 Million Tests, far more than any other country in the world,” Trump said. “In fact, more than all other major countries combined.”
“We have now Tested more than 5 Million People,” he added Sunday morning. “That is more than any other country in the World, and even more than all major countries combined!”
We have now Tested more than 5 Million People. That is more than any other country in the World, and even more than all major countries combined!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2020
Trump was echoing what he said at Friday’s briefing, when he made the claim not only that the United States is testing more than all “major” countries, but more than “all countries combined.”
Trump can say this as many times as he wants, but it won’t make it true.
As an Associated Press fact check showed, “Together, just three ‘major countries’ alone — Russia, Germany and Italy — have tested more people than the U.S.” Those three countries account for about 6.5 million tests.
(The claim of superior U.S. testing by using raw numbers is also misleading; that’s because more than 30 countries have tested more people per capita.)
Trump next turned to the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which argued that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) had been getting mixed signals from Trump as he moved to questionably reopen portions of his state’s economy.
The editorial stated that despite Trump saying Wednesday that he wasn’t “happy” with Kemp, “our reporting indicates that the President was ‘happy’ with the Georgia Governor on Tuesday night, but that Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, expressed skepticism about the Georgia policy.”
If the Wall Street Journal “Editorial” writers had called, as they should have, they would have easily found that I was “NOT happy with the Georgia Governor on Tuesday night.” You said the opposite, and got it wrong as you often do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2020
But you don’t need behind-the-scenes reporting to see that Trump professed satisfaction with Kemp on Tuesday night. At the briefing that evening, he was asked about what Kemp was doing and said, “He’s a very capable man. He knows what he’s doing. He’s done a very good job as governor — Georgia.”
By Sunday afternoon, Trump lodged his later-deleted tweets about journalists being given “Noble” prizes for their coverage of the Russia investigation — ignoring that the prizes were actually Pulitzers, not Nobels.
Trump then turned to other critical coverage, alleging that the media wrongly reported that he was talking to Birx when he was raising strange ideas about how to treat the coronavirus.
“Wrong, I was speaking to our Laboratory expert, not Deborah, about sunlight etc. & the CoronaVirus,” he said.
Was just informed that the Fake News from the Thursday White House Press Conference had me speaking & asking questions of Dr. Deborah Birx. Wrong, I was speaking to our Laboratory expert, not Deborah, about sunlight etc. & the CoronaVirus. The Lamestream Media is corrupt & sick!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2020
Wrong. As the White House’s own transcript shows, Trump even addressed a question to Birx:
TRUMP: I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure. You know — but if you could. And maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Again, I say, maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. But I’m like a person that has a good you know what. (Trump gestures to his head.)Q: But, sir, you’re the president.TRUMP: Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?BIRX: Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever --TRUMP: Yeah.BIRX: -- is a good thing.
At another point, Trump did converse with another medical expert present about his idea to possibly use “injection” of disinfectants. But as the transcript shows, Trump was indeed “speaking & asking questions of Dr. Deborah Birx.”
Trump on Sunday night rebutted media reports about him considering firing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, saying, “Reports that H.H.S. Secretary @AlexAzar is going to be ‘fired’ by me are Fake News.”
Reports that H.H.S. Secretary @AlexAzar is going to be “fired” by me are Fake News. The Lamestream Media knows this, but they are desperate to create the perception of chaos & havoc in the minds of the public. They never even called to ask. Alex is doing an excellent job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2020
But the reports weren’t that Azar’s firing was imminent; they instead said that it was merely being considered and that plans were being drawn up for a replacement.
Trump also claimed Sunday night that the Democrats “were all against” his travel restrictions on China.
As I’ve written, there is no evidence to support this claim. Democrats at the time complained about Trump’s other travel restrictions unrelated to the coronavirus, but I came up virtually empty when I searched for actual and direct Democratic criticism of the China restrictions.
Finally, Trump sought to dispute New York Times reporting that questioned his work habits when it comes to combating the coronavirus.
Trump re-upped a claim from last week’s briefings, saying, “I … haven’t left the White House in many months (except to launch Hospital Ship Comfort) in order to take care of Trade Deals, Military Rebuilding etc.”
I work from early in the morning until late at night, haven’t left the White House in many months (except to launch Hospital Ship Comfort) in order to take care of Trade Deals, Military Rebuilding etc., and then I read a phony story in the failing @nytimes about my work....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2020
Except when Trump made this claim at the briefing a week ago, it was immediately pointed out that it was false. Trump held campaign rallies in February and even early March.
Q: You held rallies in February and in March. And there are some Americans saying —TRUMP: Oh, I don’t know -- I don’t know about rallies. I really don’t know about rallies.Q: You had about five rallies in February.TRUMP: I know one thing: I haven’t left the White House in months, except for a brief moment to give a wonderful ship, the Comfort --Q: You held a rally in March.TRUMP: I don’t know. Did I hold a rally? I’m sorry I hold a rally. Did I hold a rally?
He did. And despite having that pointed out to him in real time at last Monday’s briefing, he lodged the claim again and embellished it even more, changing the claim from “in months” to “in many months.”
The comparison is a case in point for the value of the briefings — and perhaps a reminder about why Trump truly wants to scale them back: so he can make these bogus claims unfiltered on his Twitter feed.
If Trump does ditch the briefings for venues in which he won’t be questioned, it seems we’ll only see more falsehoods.