Trump ups ante in battle against media during coronavirus briefing: ‘You’re so disgraceful’

Reporter who pressed president on his actions early in pandemic found herself on end of personal tirade

Andrew Naughtie
Tuesday 14 April 2020 15:07
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CBS reporter presses on with question to Trump at White House briefing

The US’s confirmed Covid-19 death toll is now the highest in the world, with more than 23,000. But instead of focusing on how the numbers got so high and how to stop their growth, Donald Trump spent much of his latest daily press briefing railing against a favourite enemy: the media.

At what the BBC’s Jon Sopel called “the most dizzying, jaw-dropping, eyeball-popping, head-spinning news conference I have ever attended”, Mr Trump not only let rip at “fake” reporters who challenged him, but also showcased a campaign-style montage of footage assembled to imply that the American media was responsible for downplaying the threat from coronavirus – and that he himself should be credited for slowing its spread with decisive action.

Also included were clips of governors from both parties acknowledging help from the federal government as they managed their states’ response to the pandemic.

The strangeness of the video compilation, which Vox’s Aaron Rupar called “straight up North Korea-style propaganda”, was not lost on those in the room. One journalist asked who had actually put the montage together.

“I’ve never seen a video like that played in this room,” said ABC News’s Jon Karl. “It looks a bit like a campaign ad. Who produced that video for you?”

“That was done by just a group in the office” said Mr Trump, “We just put some clips together. I’ll bet you I have over a hundred more clips even better than them, they were just pieced together over the last two hours.”

After Mr Trump confirmed the clips had been compiled by a team in the White House, Mr Karl asked: “Why do you feel the need to do that?”

“Because we’re getting fake news, and I like to have it corrected.”

Among the video’s main features was a timeline of the president's "decisive action" over the course of the pandemic, a timeline that jumped abruptly from early February to the start of March.

It was on this point that Mr Trump finally lost his temper at CBS’s Paula Reid, who attempted to grill him on what exactly his administration did to combat the epidemic during that missing month – that is, with the time Mr Trump continually boasts about having “bought” with his ban on travel from China.

As Ms Reid refused to back down in her questioning, Mr Trump seemed to snap, and went on the attack: “You know you’re a fake. You know that. Your whole network, the way you cover it is fake. And most of you – and not all of you – but the people are wise to you, that’s why you have a lower approval rating than you’ve ever had before, times probably three.”

Undeterred, Ms Reid asked the president: “How is this sizzle reel or this rant supposed to make people feel confident in an unprecedented crisis?”. Mr Trump shifted the discussion to the topic of Joe Biden.

Mr Trump’s fury at journalists who dare to challenge, criticise or contradict him was complemented by his pronouncements on presidential power, which he described as “total”.

As was pointed out by a reporter, the constitution’s 10th amendment makes clear that any rights not specifically granted to the federal government reside with the states. Asked what provisions in the US Constitution grant him absolute power, Mr Trump responded: “Numerous – numerous provisions. We can give you a legal brief if you want.”

Speaking on MSNBC, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the president was wrong. “To say ‘I have total authority over the country because I’m the president, it’s absolute’, that is a king. We didn’t have a king. We didn’t have King George Washington, we had president George Washington.”

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