At a press conference on Tuesday — where reporters practiced social distancing and the White House coronavirus task force did not — President Trump was asked if worst-case estimates for coronavirus deaths of over 1 million prompted his recent “shift in tone.” The president did not agree with the analysis:
“I’ve always known this is a real — this is a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. All you had to do was look at other countries … No I’ve always viewed it as very serious. There was no difference yesterday from days before.”
Like Trump’s past revisions of his personal record, the claim doesn’t stand up to the slightest nudge of scrutiny. Almost two months ago, on January 22, the president told CNBC that the virus was “totally under control.” When asked if there were “worries about a pandemic at this point,” he responded, “No, not at all.” A little over a month later, on February 28, he called the coronavirus the Democrats’ “new hoax,” comparing it to the Russia investigation. “It’s going to disappear,” he added. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” On March 9 — by which point there were already over 500 confirmed cases in the U.S. — he dismissed the pandemic with the common conservative comparison to the flu. And on Sunday — days after declaring a national emergency and hours before a major shutdown of New York City — he said that “it’s something that we have tremendous control over.” (Rhetoric is just a sliver of the problem: As the president denied the importance of COVID-19, his administration lost vital weeks to mitigate the crisis and implement proper testing.)
The turnaround — if not the convenient amnesia — has been on display at Trump’s preferred networks as well. Up until last week, Fox News and Fox Business Network were downplaying the economic and public health impacts of the crisis. In one of the most brazen examples Fox Business Network host Trish Regan identified the coronavirus last Monday as an “impeachment scam” designed to “create mass hysteria in order to stop our economy dead in its tracks.” Two days later, Sean Hannity suggested the “deep state” may be using the crisis to push “mandated medicines” on unassuming Americans. By Friday, the day Trump declared a national emergency, Regan was placed on hiatus; by Monday night, Hannity called the coronavirus a “critical time for everybody in the country,” and encouraged the practice of social distancing in order to save “thousands of American lives.”
It remains to be seen if Fox’s change of tone, the president’s newfound focus, and the sweeping effects of the virus will alter opinions of the network’s and the president’s conservative base: As of Friday, a poll found that just four out of 10 Republicans were worried that a family member could succumb to COVID-19.
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