WASHINGTON — Trump used Monday’s briefing of the coronavirus task force to lash out at several members of the press, despite having recently praised media coverage of his response to the crisis as “very fair.”
After kicking off the briefing by praising his own administration for its response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Trump opened the briefing up to questions, during which he refused to acknowledge any criticism of his handling of the pandemic that has brought the United States to a virtual standstill.
One point of contention was a report released today by the inspector general of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. That report said that “severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results limited hospitals’ ability to monitor the health of patients and staff.” Trump has repeatedly insisted that the United States has the best coronavirus testing regime in the world, but evidence contradicts that assertion.
Trump suggested that the inspector general in question, Christi Grimm, was an Obama administration holdover motivated to portray his efforts in unflattering light. She has actually been with the department since 1999.
When Fox News reporter Kristin Fisher brought up the HHS report, Trump sighed, then answered that it was not the federal government’s job to “stand on street corners doing testing.” He then suggested that Fisher should have taken a different approach. “You should have said ‘Congratulations, great job,’” the president told her, “instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question.”
Trump has repeatedly defended his optimism while presiding over task force briefings. “I want to give people hope. I’m a cheerleader for the country,” he said last week. But that optimism can make him hostile to even the slightest criticism or tough questions posed to him by journalists.
Jonathan Karl of ABC News incurred the brunt of Trump’s wrath for asking about Grimm’s report. “You’re a third-rate reporter,” he told Karl. “And what you just said was a disgrace,” the president added, seeming to suggest that Karl had concealed Grimm’s work during President Obama’s time in office.
“You will never make it,” Trump told the veteran White House reporter.
The HHS report wasn’t the only point of contention during Monday’s briefing. Trump grew annoyed when McClatchy’s Francesca Chambers asked him about the paycheck protection program, a Small Business Administration initiative that has had an inauspicious rollout.
As with coronavirus testing, the president maintained that there were scant problems for the media to report upon concerning the program. “I wish you’d asked that question differently. Why don’t you say, ‘It’s gotten off to a tremendous start, but there were some little glitches,’ which by the way, have been worked out. It would be so much nicer if you’d do that, but you’re just incapable of asking a question in a positive way,” Trump told Chambers.
It may be that Trump wants from journalists the kind of adulation they are not disposed to giving him. He and his allies have routinely said that the press was much kinder to Obama.
“I wish we had a fair media in this country and we really don’t,” Trump complained on Monday. Later in the briefing, he also said that the hours-long daily updates from the task force were necessary to defend his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “One of the reasons I do these news conferences is because, if I didn’t, they would believe fake news and we can’t let them believe fake news,” he said.
Increasingly, Trump’s defense of his coronavirus record has led him to attack those who question it. Although he has sometimes been somber and focused, Monday’s briefing was particularly contentious.
At one point in the briefing, Trump questioned Youyou Wang, a reporter for Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong outlet. Wang had asked about whether Trump would cooperate with Beijing on a coronavirus response, but the president wanted to talk about the trade deal he’d signed with China in December, and the reporter’s persistence irritated Trump.
“Who are you working for,” Trump wondered, “China?”
“Hong Kong Phoenix TV,” Wang answered.
“Who owns that, China? Is it owned by the state?”
Wang answered that Phoenix TV is a private company (though it does appear to have ties to China). That seemed to confirm Trump’s suspicions and he never bothered answering Wang’s original question.
Three of the four reporters Trump skirmished with on Monday were women. He had previously criticized Yamiche Alcindor of PBS Newshour, falsely suggesting that she had been fired by the New York Times. He also called her “threatening.”
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