During the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak, the Trump administration believed the media was exaggerating the virus in order to scare people and hurt Trump’s polling. “The reason they are paying so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to bring down the president,” said then–chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Later, they insisted the media was exaggerating the economic contraction. Trump has repeatedly floated predictions for the number of deaths from the pandemic that were quickly exceeded by reality.
The next step, reports Axios, will be to begin publicly questioning the listed totals of coronavirus deaths. “Trump has vented that the numbers seem inflated,” it reports, as have several people around him who believe the same.
This is not just a matter of public spin, like Trump’s campaign to pressure the news media into reporting that his tiny inauguration crowd was larger than it was. The news source he trusts, Fox News, has been running hours of programming questioning the death totals. One Fox theory has seized on changes to official tabulation by the CDC. Another misinterprets the categorization of pneumonia deaths. Axios reports that Trump himself has repeated yet another theory, which raises questions about an increase in previously uncategorized nursing-home deaths in New York.
All of these theories are pure crankery. Indeed, the official recorded death count is lower, not higher, than the actual coronavirus death toll. People who die at home from the virus without receiving medical attention have not been included in the official totals. But the fact that Trump and his allies have developed so many different pseudo-statistical objections shows how desperate they are to cast doubt on the official numbers.
The propaganda campaign has worked. The percentage of frequent Fox News watchers who believe that the official coronavirus death counts are exaggerated has risen from 45 percent last month to 61 percent this month.
Trump is a devoted member of the Fox News audience. What’s more, he believes everybody is as dishonest as he is. The deep state would like to defeat Trump, and embarrassing Trump by publishing death tolls higher than Trump predicted would occur will make Trump look bad, so of course they’re cooking the books. Inventing fake statistics to support his goal is exactly what Trump would do, so naturally he believes it is being done against him.