Trump clashes with reporters as he defends coronavirus record

US president attacks media as government delays in dealing with pandemic highlighted

US president Donald Trump clashed repeatedly with the media during a press conference on the coronavirus where he accused the “fake news” of misrepresenting his record on the pandemic. Video: The White House

 

Donald Trump’s war with the media intensified on Monday night as he accused the “fake news” of misrepresenting his record on the coronavirus.

In a rancourous White House briefing, Mr Trump repeatedly clashed with reporters. In an unprecedented move, he ran a video reel of collated media clips and audio which trumpeted his handling of the crisis. The opening clip led with the phrase “the media minimised the risk from the start”, transitioning into a collation of soundbites, some of which were selectively edited.

Amid accusations that the video clip resembled a campaign ad, most of the main cable news networks in the United States cut away from the press conference, but resumed coverage when the discussion moved to an update on the coronavirus strategy. Fox News ran the press conference in its entirety.

“You’re so disgraceful . . . You know you are a fake, you know that, your whole network, the way you cover it is fake,” he said in one altercation with a CBS female reporter.

“Enough,” he said to another reporter who tried to question his claim that the president’s authority is “total”. He also referred to the New York Times as “fake news”.

“Hopefully in five years when I’m not here those papers are all going to go out of business because no one’s going to want to read them. Now they like them because they write about me.”

A weekend story in the New York Times outlining the president’s delayed response to coronavirus appears to have prompted Mr Trump’s anger. Instead, he repeatedly highlighted his decision to stop flights from China in January, even though 40,000 people have arrived in the United States from China since then.

Flights

“Nobody thought we should do it,” he said of the decision to halt the flights. “I saved tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of lives.”

He also addressed growing speculation that he was considering firing virus expert Dr Anthony Fauci. Within minutes of the briefing beginning, Dr Fauci was invited to the podium by Mr Trump. The doctor went on to clarify comments he made on CNN on Sunday, in which, when asked if earlier intervention could have saved lives, he implied it would have.

“I was asked a hypothetical question and hypothetical questions can sometimes get you into some difficulty because it’s what could have or would have,” he said. He said that the first and only time that he and colleague Deborah Birx asked Mr Trump to extend social distancing measures he did so.

Asked by a reporter in the press room if he was clarifying his comments “voluntarily”, Mr Fauci replied: “Please don’t even imply that.”

Other senior White House officials including vice-president Mike Pence and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin were present for the briefing.

Mr Trump also suggested that he could override state governors in making the decision to reopen states, despite individual states having ultimate authority in this field.

“The president of the United States calls the shots,” he said. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president.”

Governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York have been taking a leading role in confronting the coronavirus pandemic and have requested more help from the federal government, particularly in terms of equipment. But Mr Trump said the authority of the president of the United States is “total”. “That’s the way it’s gotta be, and the governors know that.”

In a statement, the Democratic National Committee accused the president of covering up for his own “failed response” to the pandemic. “More than 20,000 Americans have died, hospitals and states still can’t get the supplies they need, testing is failing, and instead of updating Americans on the coronavirus pandemic, Trump commandeered the briefing to run campaign propaganda to sooth his small ego and pathetically try to cover up for his own failed response. It won’t work, and the American people deserve better.”

Epicentre

The death toll from coronavirus in the United States has passed 23,000. New York continues to be the epicentre of the outbreak, though Mr Cuomo said the “worst is over” if current measures to combat coronavirus continue. A total 671 people died in New York on Easter Sunday alone, though the number was lower than in previous days.

Mr Cuomo said reopening the state would be a gradual process, likening it to the opening of a valve. “We will start to reopen the valve, turn it very slowly,” which will take place along with more testing and more precautions, he said. “If you see that infection rate start ticking up . . . then you know you’ve opened the valve too fast.”

The governor said he would learn from other countries’ experience when deciding when and how to restart businesses and schools. “It’s a delicate balance. Remember none of this has been done before . . . I want to learn from those other countries frankly . . . what worked and what didn’t work.”

On Monday, Mr Cuomo, along with the governors of five nearby states, established a regional advisory council to examine ways of reopening the regional economy once the coronavirus threat has passed. “We cannot act on our own. We must be smart and tactical in how our region comes out of this, or else we’ll be right back to square one,” said New Jersey’s governor Phil Murphy, whose state has recorded more than 2,000 deaths from the virus.

Mr Cuomo said that co-ordination with Connecticut and New Jersey in particular was necessary as a lot of New York’s workforce lives in the neighbouring states.