A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address is best known as his “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” speech. I’m not feeling inspired by that line right now; we have many good reasons to fear this virus. But there is a portion of FDR’s speech, before “fear itself,” that is perfectly applicable to this emergency.
FDR said the American people expected candor from him. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly,” he said. “Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.”
His address showed that there are ways to offer hope and inspiration while staying rooted in the truth. The truth works! People can handle it. But President Trump keeps spinning and sputtering instead of speaking the truth. And Fox News keeps encouraging him…
Fox anchors fail to challenge Trump
Oliver Darcy emails: Bill Hemmer and Harris Faulkner failed to meaningfully challenge Trump as he repeatedly misled viewers during a virtual town hall on Tuesday, effectively surrendering the network’s airwaves to the president who even appeared to cite a conspiratorial website to argue his case. The failure was notable, given that the town hall was hosted not by the opinion division, but by what Fox bills as a supposedly fearless and hard-hitting news division.
Trump, for instance, repeatedly compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu. But Hemmer repeatedly failed to simply point out that Covid-19 has a significantly higher mortality rate than the flu. At another point during the interview, Trump said he would “love” for the country to “open by Easter” on April 12. Instead of challenging Trump, and noting that his hopeful date contradicts what medical experts have said, Faulkner replied, “Oh wow. OK.” Hemmer added, “That would be a great American resurrection.” Read my full story here…
Some of Tuesday’s mistruths
— “Nobody ever expected a thing like this,” Trump said on Fox. Per Daniel Dale, that’s “still false,” no matter how many times Trump says it…
— As Darcy mentioned, Trump repeated an “unproven Gateway Pundit conspiracy theory about NY Governor Andrew Cuomo…”
— Trump also compared the coronavirus crisis to car accident deaths, and Fox’s news anchors didn’t push back one bit. This was a journalistic failure. Car accidents are not contagious and do not overwhelm the health care system…
“By Easter?” That’s “magical thinking”
Instead of indulging Trump’s fantasy talk, we need to be listening closely to doctors and other experts on the front lines. It is incumbent on the press to make sure their voices are heard loud and clear.
>> On Page One of Wednesday’s NYT: “Public health officials were horrified by Mr. Trump’s statement, which threatened to send many Americans back into the public square just as the peak of the virus was expected.”
>> Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb’s report for WaPo, citing 15 sources: “The president’s tug-of-war with experts over coronavirus policy.”
>> “What we’re seeing right now in our emergency rooms is dire,” Dr. Craig Spencer of the Columbia University Medical Center told Anderson Cooper Tuesday night… “To think that we’ll be in any place to lift these restrictionary measures by Easter, in just two or three weeks, for me, seems completely magical thinking.”
>> Key quote from Spencer: “This is going to be a marathon. We are not even at the beginning of this…”
“I have never been so afraid for our country.”
Susan Glasser has seen a lot. Just Google her name if you’re not familiar. On Tuesday, the New Yorker staff writer and CNN analyst wrote on Twitter, “Today is insane. As America heads toward becoming the epicenter of coronavirus on the planet and India embarks on the largest quarantine in the history of the world, Donald Trump takes it upon himself to promise America will reopen by Easter.”
She followed up later in the evening: “I have never been so afraid for our country.”
“A restless Trump wants to end the country’s isolation — and his own”
Fresh reporting from CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins and Kate Bennett: “Antsy at being sealed off, with no visiting dignitaries and no large crowds, Trump has wondered aloud to aides when life will again return to normal — not just for the nation, but for himself. The slowdown in his own life has led, in part, to Trump’s strong desire to see the guidelines he offered on avoiding crowds and staying at home lifted quickly.” Read on…
Lowry on taking Trump’s pressers live: “Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures”
Brian Lowry emails: Fox News appears to be a lost cause at this point in the shaming department, but add my voice to the chorus of those saying it’s incumbent on other news organizations to rethink how they approach Trump press availabilities. There’s nothing lost in terms of news value by delaying them long enough — as networks frequently did before the crisis — to cull out the significant and most important factual things that he says, as opposed to participating in the dissemination of disinformation. It runs counter to everything news executives have been taught, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
Stelter’s two cents
There should be daily televised White House briefings — it’s a travesty that the Trump W.H. ever cut back on daily Q&A’s — but at this moment in time, the briefings should be led by doctors and scientists. When the briefings veer into Trump rally territory, they lose value and run the risk of actively harming the audience. If misinformation is aired live, the followups and corrections have to be even livelier…
FOR THE RECORD
— “Trump to New York: Drop Dead” is the title of this piece by NYT opinion columnist Jennifer Senior… (NYT)
— It is essential to keep seeking out high-quality reporting from the frontlines. Like this AP story about NYC hospitals: “A ‘cacophony of coughing’ in packed ERs. Beds squeezed in wherever there is space. Overworked, sleep-deprived doctors and nurses rationed to one face mask a day and wracked by worry about a dwindling number of available ventilators…” (AP)
— MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said his program did not play any video clips of Trump’s remarks on Tuesday because “he’s a genuine threat to public health, his rhetoric at this point, the things he says…” (Mediaite)
— Per Jeremy Barr, “Sean Hannity says that President Trump will be a guest on his show later this week…” (Twitter)