By Terrance Turner
The President of the United States held a press briefing on Thursday to update the public on the coronavirus. During the briefing, he touted the drug hydroxychloroquine, used to treat malaria and arthritis, as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Preliminary tests had shown promise for the drug. Trump called it a “game-changer” that could help thousands. He added that the drug would be made available “almost immediately” with a prescription. Trump even said people would have access to the drug “literally within a few days.” But the Food and Drug Administration begged to differ. That same day, the FDA released a statement saying that “there are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19”.
The next day, at another briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci (the head of the White House coronavirus task force) was asked if hydroxychloroquine could be used as a “prophylaxis” against the virus. “The answer is no,” Fauci said plainly. “The evidence you’re talking about, John, is anecdotal evidence,” he continued, addressing the reporter by name. “But the information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal. It was not done in a controlled, clinical trial.”
Trump stepped to the mic, conceding that “what the doctor said is 100% correct.” He added. “We’ll see. We’re going to know soon.”
NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander pointed out that the president’s own words had painted a different picture. “Yesterday, Mr. President, you said that they were for, quote, ‘immediate delivery’.”
“Yes, we have millions of units ordered,” the president responded. “I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to — in particular — one of these drugs. And we’ll see how it works out, Peter. I’m not saying it will, but I think people may be surprised. By the way, that would be a game-changer.”
“Dr. Fauci said that there’s no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree—”
“Well, I think we only disagree a little bit”, the president interrupted. (Crosstalk ensued.) “I disagree,” he said. Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe there is; maybe there isn’t. We’ll have to see.”
“Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?” Alexander asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” Trump answered. “Such a lovely question,” he said sarcastically. “Look — it may work, and it may not work. And I agree with the doctor, what he said. . .. I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling. I’m, you know, a smart guy.”
Alexander’s next question set off a powder keg. “What do you say to the people who are scared, though? Nearly 200 dead. 14,000 who are sick [in the U.S.]. Millions, as you’ve witnessed, who are scared right now? What do you say to Americans, who are watching you right now, who are scared?”
“I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say,” Trump fumed. “I think that’s a very nasty question and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism and the same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call it Comcast, I call it ‘Concast.’” He wasn’t done: “That’s really bad reporting, you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot.”
Watch the full exchange below:
This morning, the White House held another briefing. While Trump was talking about unity in our “beautiful, big American family”, his campaign was sending emails to supporters that further attacked Alexander. The Hill reported earlier today on the email’s contents: “President Trump was in the middle of delivering a positive, uplifting message to Americans who may be afraid, and Peter Alexander was triggered by it,” the email claims. “Perhaps if Alexander hadn’t been so determined to undermine the President’s message, he would have heard it.”
As for the briefing itself? This time, things unfolded rather smoothly, with the president deferring to experts and generally behaving himself. But the damage was already done. After yesterday’s exchange, many called for networks to end live coverage of Trump’s briefings. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow explicitly called for the practice to end last night on The Rachel Maddow Show.
She has been joined by a chorus of voices who say that the president lies so frequently that it does a disservice to viewers: