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Trump more focused on TV briefings and rewriting history than saving lives | COMMENTARY

President Donald Trump listens to a question from a reporter as he speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump listens to a question from a reporter as he speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon/AP)

Ignorance, arrogance and petulance ― that’s the Trump administration from the president on down. And it has been that way since the inauguration.

But the burning media question now is how much longer can we stomach heaping TV helpings day after day of the president’s reckless behavior as thousands die horrible deaths due to the COVID-19 virus. When are enough lies, spin and disinformation every night on TV enough?

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The question that has challenged the press from day one of this administration is what can the media do when the man who controls the largest information platform in the country is using it so irresponsibly. The query takes on an even greater urgency at this moment of cosmic crisis when we need steady and informed leadership more than at any time since World War II.

Mr. Trump opened this crucial week in the crisis with another ugly TV performance during the dinner hour Monday.

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He began with a mountain of mind-numbing statistics and spin, mainly intended to prove that the administration was doing a great job in getting testing supplies to hospitals.

Mr. Trump’s numbers were impossible to independently confirm, but once questions were allowed, he got pushback on his claim of what those numbers were intended to prove. It came, surprisingly, from Fox News, the channel that until recently had been the hands-down winner in spreading Mr. Trump’s misinformation about COVID-19.

Citing an inspector general’s report from the Department of Health and Human Services that found “severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results,” Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher asked, "When can hospitals expect a quick turnaround on these test results?”

That set Mr. Trump off ― straight down the bunny trail of vitriol and press hatred. Hip-pity-hop to the paranoia shop as Mr. Trump blamed the hospital and states for any problems in testing. He then demanded the name of the author of the report and date of appointment suggesting any criticism was the result of partisan politics.

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(In fact, the author of the report is a 21-year government veteran, Christi Grimm, who has served in the administrations of two Democrats and two Republicans. She was promoted during Mr. Trump’s administration to principal deputy inspector general.)

“You should say, ‘Congratulations, great job,’ instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question,” Mr. Trump angrily told Ms. Fisher.

But Mr. Trump’s anger didn’t truly boil over until Jonathan Karl, of ABC News, followed up with the date of Ms. Grimm’s recent promotion.

“You’re a third rate reporter,” he told Mr. Karl. “And what you just said is a disgrace ... You will never make it.”

Ms. Fisher and Mr. Karl did exactly what the press is supposed to do in challenging Mr. Trump. He is desperate to rewrite the history of his failure in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis early on, and that’s what these daily TV performances are mainly about: him trying to change the narrative of failure that is settling in.

More powerful than the pushback at the press briefing was Maggie Haberman’s report in The New York Times Monday night on two memos from January and February written by Peter Navarro, the president’s trade adviser, that warned of a COVID-19 pandemic exactly like the one we are now in. The report shreds Mr. Trump’s repeated claim that no one saw this coming.

The Times has been superb in battling Mr. Trump for control of the narrative. So have The Washington Post, and to some extent, CNN and MSNBC. But we need to come to a consensus on Mr. Trump’s two-hour TV marathons.

It is too simplistic to say don’t cover them. He is president, and we are in crisis. But we can cover them far less while clearly explaining our decision.

At the start of a briefing, we could open with the camera focused on the anchor desk and Mr. Trump shown in a small window in the corner of the screen. Visual marginalization.

“President Trump has started today’s press session,” the anchor could say. “We are monitoring it and will bring you any news from it that we can independently verify. But we are not going to air most of it anymore. The president has used these session to celebrate himself, slander his opponents and attack the press as thousands of Americans die. We will no longer be party with unlimited airtime to his reckless behavior.”

Verbal marginalization, too. It needs to be done ― loud and clear.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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