As President Donald Trump again griped that the news media has been too fixated on the negative in covering his administration’s response to the coronavirus, ABC News’ chief White House correspondent had enough of it.
After the president, at his Wednesday briefing, started to grouse that there was a lot of “bad reporting out there,” Karl interjected, “That’s not true. That’s not true.”
Trump’s attacks on the media are a regular feature of his nightly briefings, but what is less common is when a reporter calls him out so blatantly.
The exchange occurred just as Trump was telling those in the briefing room, “You people aren’t satisfied. So let’s say we had 350 million people in the United States. Let’s say you gave every one of those people a test. So you give 350 million people a test 10 times. The fake news media would say, ‘Where’s the 11th time? He didn’t do his job. Trump didn’t do his job.’ Because you have a lot of bad reporting out there. It is very sad.”
That’s when Karl interrupted Trump, objecting that the remark was “not true.”
“You are one of the leaders of the bad reporting,” Trump responded.
“That’s not true,” Karl continued.
Karl, who is current president of the White House Correspondents Association, has long known the president, going back to the days when he was a reporter for the New York Post and Trump was still primarily known as a publicity friendly real estate developer.
Later, at a Politics & Prose conversation with former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, tied to Karl’s book Front Row at the Trump Show, Karl said that he “frankly couldn’t help myself” in blurting out the comment to the president. He said that reporters should not put themselves in the position of being the anti-Trump “resistance” to the administration, but that they have a role to “call out falsehoods” and “we do it relentlessly, and we try to hold him to account.”
It’s no surprise that the exchange was around the issue of testing, as it has been an ongoing flashpoint at the briefings.
Trump consistency touts that the U.S. is leading all other countries in testing for the virus. According to the COVID tracking project, about 4.4 million tests have been performed.
But that figure is still a small sliver of the overall U.S. population, and some experts say that screening has to be ramped up considerably to more fully measure the extent of the spread of the virus. The Harvard Global Health Institute says that figure needs to be much greater — triple the rate it currently is running — to gain a better understanding of which areas can begin to lift closure and stay-at-home orders.
The rosy picture of testing capacity is also contradicted by governors, some of whom are seeking new ways to expand their output amid the need for components like swabs. Earlier this week, Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) said the state had secured 500,000 test kits from South Korea.
Trump’s characterization of testing efforts also got some pushback via news network chyron. MSNBC, which carried much of the briefing live, still ran headlines to try to fact check what was being said. “Trump falsely says ‘we’re doing more testing than probably any of the governors even want,” read one of the network chyrons at one point.
The briefing actually started on Wednesday with Trump’s effort to counter another aspect of reporting on the coronavirus — a potential second wave this fall and next winter.
On Tuesday, Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Washington Post, “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through. And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”
Miffed by the grim outlook, Trump tweeted on Wednesday that Redfield was misquoted, and the president made that claim again at the briefing before asking Redfield to explain his remark. Redfield, however, said that he was “accurately quoted,” having even retweeted the Post story on Tuesday with no objections.
Redfield said that what he was trying to say was that a second wave of the virus could be more difficult and complicated in the fall because they would be dealing with the flu season at the same time.
“I didn’t say this was going to be worse. I said it was going to be more difficult,” Redfield told reporters.
His dispute with the Post appeared to be less so with the actual story than with the headline to story: CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating. CNN picked up on the piece and ran with it in its coverage on Tuesday evening.
Trump, who has said that he wants to project optimism and act as a kind of cheerleader for the country, insists that the economy is poised to rebound once the crisis has passed. He’s been pushing back against the idea that there will be an even worse second wave of the virus — or even that there will be a second wave at all.
“We will not go through what we went through for the past two months,” he insisted. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has been saying that a second wave is likely because of the virus’ high degree of transmission.
That said, Trump did challenge an even more optimistic scenario of the crisis, that of the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp. Earlier this week, Kemp announced that businesses like hair salons, spas, gyms and other businesses will be allowed to reopen starting on Friday.
“I think it’s too soon,” Trump said. “But at the same time he must do what he thinks is right.”
The briefing barely touched on one of the day’s bigger breaking news stories — a new whistleblower.
About an hour before the briefing started, The New York Times reported that Dr. Rick Bright said that he was removed from a top post at the Department of Health and Human Services because he insisted on a robust study of a coronavirus treatment advanced by Trump as a potential “game changer.” The treatment, hydroxychloroquine, has not yet had clinical trials.
In a letter given to the Times by his attorneys, Bright said, “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.”
At the briefing, Trump said he didn’t know whether Bright was forced out of his post, as director of HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. “I don’t know who he is,” Trump said.
He later scolded CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang for a follow up question she had fro Fauci about Bright, in which she referred to the “gifts” he would bring to his newly assigned position at the National Institutes of Health.
Trump said to Jiang, “Do you know him? Have you studied him? Have you reported on him?”
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