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President Donald Trump turned his daily White House coronavirus briefing on Monday into a full-fledged propaganda campaign, attempting to rewrite history on his pandemic response with a low-quality video that paints him in a positive light.
The president had what could objectively be called a meltdown in the first half of the briefing, criticising the news media, and specifically The New York Times, for accurately reporting that he was slow to effectively respond to the growing pandemic despite being warned early on by several aides and health experts about the need for aggressive action.
Before giving actual updates on the latest information about the virus, Trump surprised reporters by having the briefing room’s lights dimmed to show a video that began with a slide titled: “The Media Minimised the Risk From the Start.”
The propaganda video showed several cable reels of reporters and TV hosts downplaying the virus’s risk in January and early February. The video then showed a timeline of the White House’s response to the pandemic, with Trump’s first action being on Jan. 31, when he announced travel restrictions on passengers from China, where the virus is believed to have originated. (There is no “ban” on Europe or China, as Trump otherwise repeatedly alleges – there are restrictions with many exemptions, including entire European countries.)
The video then included audio of Times reporter Maggie Haberman, in which she said that Trump was widely criticised for halting flights from China in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Haberman clarified on Twitter that the video’s use of the audio was “misleading” because she had gone on to say that Trump “treated that travel limitation as a Mission Accomplished moment.”
“And then he did basically nothing for over a month. Which was our story yesterday,” Haberman tweeted, referring to a Times article about Trump’s slow pandemic response.
Trump has increasingly taken advantage of the briefing’s wide viewership at a time he’s unable to hold reelection campaign rallies due to the pandemic. As the president increases the number of lies he tells every day, networks are beginning to cut away from the briefing to prevent the spread of sometimes dangerous misinformation, coming back to the briefing once the health experts begin to speak. Networks including MSNBC and CNN made the decision Monday to cut away from Trump’s meltdown – but not before providing viewers with a slew of chyrons accurately depicting the situation in the briefing room.
ABC White House correspondent Jon Karl asked Trump if government employees produced the “campaign-style” propaganda video, to which the president answered that “a group in the office” that includes social media director Dan Scavino “just put some clips together.”
“I could give you – I’ll bet you I have over 100 more clips, even better than them,” Trump said. “They were just pieced together over the last two hours.”
CBS White House correspondent Paula Reid pressed Trump on the propaganda video, asking what he did to help prevent the pandemic in the month between announcing travel restrictions from China and announcing that pharmaceutical companies were beginning to develop a vaccine.
“The argument is that you bought yourself some time and you didn’t use it to prepare hospitals and you didn’t use it to ramp up testing,” Reid said, as Trump called her “disgraceful.” “Right now, literally 20 million people are unemployed. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead. How does this reel or this rant supposed to make people feel confident in an unprecedented crisis?”
“Your video has a complete gap,” Reid continued, referring to the video’s timeline jump from Feb. 6 to March 2. “What did your administration do in February with the time that your travel ban bought you?”
Trump responds by saying, “A lot.” Reid continued her questioning despite the president shouting over her, asking him what he did with the entire month he had to implement mitigation measures.
“You know you’re a fake. You know that,” Trump told Reid, his latest in a series of attacks on female White House reporters.