Donald Trump's coronavirus information room antics entertain and scare away
WASHINGTON: Disgusting, Donald Trump calls one journalist, third-rate, rates another. The President of the United States seems to detest journalists, but in his stormy press conferences on the coronavirus, he keeps coming back for more.
Every day, for weeks, Trump has spent up to two hours of primetime television delivering his unique mix of name calling, pranks, and cheery bragging.
The briefings began as a way to inform an anxious nation about the COVID-19 emergency, turning health officials, like infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci, into household names. The usually soft Vice President Mike Pence has earned respect for his quiet but unadorned updates on the number of sick and dead.
However, sooner or later, the events are sure to become all about the most spotlight-loving president. And it was before.
Trump became a lead actor, director, and producer on the latest version of a reality show that has been playing much of his life: the omnipotent and irascible CEO.
Somehow it seems to have worked. Ratings have been so high, Trump likes to cite a newspaper report, such as the ending of the reality show The Bachelor.
However, many of those viewers must have included Americans who were simply waiting for information about the pandemic - a captive audience.
By Thursday, even the Wall Street Journal's pro-Republican editorial board had had enough, urging Trump to leave the briefings to the experts and stay away.
A friend of ours who voted for President Trump recently sent us a note saying he had stopped looking, the editorialists wrote in a dry and devastating criticism.
Why? Because they have become less about defeating the virus and more about Donald J. Trump's many disputes.
More about Covid-19
Fake news! Trump furiously tweeted in The Wall Street Journal.
But coincidentally or not, Thursday night he left his briefing for the first time after just 20 minutes. The sober experts stayed to give most of the presentation, as recommended by the Journal.
At least until Thursday's brief episode, the briefings follow a careful choreography, all designed to magnify Trump.
When officials arrive at the microphone, the first thing they do is praise. This is just a little recent:
As the President said so well, ...
I just want to start by thanking President Trump.
Another example of President Trump's bold leadership.
It is great to see the countries of the world come together behind President Trump.
Things are not so hot between Trump and journalists.
The attack on Trump's media is nothing new. But in a room with only a handful of reporters allowed due to social distancing measures, the presidential attack becomes very personal.
You're a third-rate journalist and what you just said is a shame, okay? Trump told ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl.
Trump called other reporters nasty and terrible. He warned another to be kind. Don't be threatening.
Trump even lashed out at the Fox News correspondent for asking him a tough question, seemingly wondering why the journalist wasn't throwing softball, as the network's openly pro-Trump hosts do.
I thought you were with Fox, he said.
Whether Trump really hates journalists is a matter of speculation.
As a veteran publicist, he delights above all with maximum exposure. Talk to journalists much more often than typical predecessors in the Oval Office.
Trump can also count on one or two friendly questions from right-wing cable channels like OANN, which have an increasingly strong presence in the meeting room.
They treat me very well, Trump recently told the OANN reporter, even before she began her question.
In another briefing, the new correspondent for a rival conservative network, News Max, turned out to be none other than Sean Spicer, a former Trump spokesman.
But there are softball questions and then there are the strange ones, leaving reporters and Trump staff waiting near the podium in disbelief.
At a briefing Wednesday, the time came for the latest: A New York Post journalist who wanted to know if Trump would forgive the convicted killer/zoo star of Netflix hit Tiger King.
Forgot the furious pandemic. Forgotten were the millions of newly unemployed Americans. Discussions over whether or not Trump dealt with an unprecedented crisis were forgotten.
It was time to joke about Joe Exotic and Trump's jokes, presumably that he would investigate the idea of forgiveness.