Some Thoughts Watching the President’s COVID-19 Press Conferences

Like many, if not most Americans I suppose, my wife and I watch the daily press conference regarding the status of the nation’s battle with Coronavirus. This process began with President Trump appointing the Vice President to lead the committee, and then with Mr. Pence heading up a good group of experts daily. Quickly it became clear that two people distinguished themselves with clarity and straight-talk: Dr. Fauchi and Dr. Birx. The former, a small quixotic man who has headed the nation’s CDC for decades, speaks with a twinkle in his eye and straight-forward information. The latter, a woman professionally attired with colorful scarf accessories, speaks clearly and confidently, and completes a first-class medical team, These two, with FEMA reps and others, plus Mr. Pence, have addressed the matter well. Quickly it became clear that there was insufficient protective equipment (masks, gloves, etc.) for both front line medical staffs and citizens alike, as well as too few test kits and even a procedure to conduct the test without false readings both ways.

After a few sessions, it became clear that the President missed taking part in this briefing, and so he took over. He has, to his credit, allowed others to speak and takes questions both for himself and refers others to Pence and his expert panel. I felt the overall process was pretty good, even as Mr. Trump clearly felt that he should take over the reins again.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 20, 2020.

The roll out of protective gear and testing methods has been much slower than promised, but all in all, it’s getting top attention and things will sort themselves out sooner than later. Mr. Trump does best when he’s crediting others and sharing the spotlight, and he has done both better at times, and has done worse at times with this. His best moments have been when he seems earnest and shares the podium, and his worst moments have been when he reacts angrily to honest questions from the press about slow roll-outs of support, claiming the questions are “nasty,” and that the reporters are unfair. To him it’s often that the press is unfair when they ask tough questions and go not give him sufficient credit. To him, it's often "about him" in some way.

Some other personal observations during several of these press conference/updates:

  1. The news of the Coronavirus is unending now on the news, and especially on cable news. “Breaking News” is breaking non-stop. It's important to have a national briefing daily until things stabilize.
  2. On MSNBC, the anchors are very smart and impressive. The take is negative on the President - questioning continuously. Basically, their position is that Mr. Trump is shallow, an idiot savant at worst and a narcissist at best.
  3. On Fox News, the network shows many peripheral and “cute” little types of fillers. It treats Mr. Trump with kid gloves at times, and as a victim of unfair criticism at others; the network could not be more supportive in general. Some, like Chris Wallace, are news professional, but others, like Sean Hannity are often shills for the President. It must be said that Mr. Hannity's show is very well produced and his singular support of the President is rock solid.  I  think it's an honest critique to compare many Fox personalities not as professional news professionals, but rather as very skilled entertainers. To Fox News’ credit, some of the news professionals have been critical at times of Mr. Trump, and he then has blasted them for being unfair!
  4. CNN probably takes the most middle-road of any of the cable news networks, but clearly is critical of the President. The anchors on CNN, like MSNBC, are professional and impressive.

Having noted my own impressions, Fox News has as many viewers as the other two taken together. The President’s supporters are extremely loyal, in no small measure thanks to Fox.

The President dresses impeccably, with very expensive suits along with (usually) brilliant white shirts, cuff links, and mostly solid-colored ties that are so expertly knotted in the exact center that one wonders who assists him to such perfection. His hair, brilliantly dyed a magnificent flaxen blond and coiffed at a length of at least six to eight inches, slung back over his forehead to settle (with some assist from a hair spray no doubt) toward the rear, is a wonder to behold. No doubt whatever one thinks of Mr. Trump’s ability as POTUS, he wins the best dressed award for sure. In addition, he wears a perpetual tan, if one excuses the white areas immediately around his eyes. Let’s face it, image IS important.

The Vice President comes across as a plain-vanilla Mid-Westerner who is competent, and one who knows his place. Apparently an able manager; he fits the role of an “apparatchik” to use a term we used to associate with Russia, but now has a larger meaning as a blindly devoted official. Mr. Pence, in my opinion, would be more highly thought of if he would not gaze lovingly toward the President so often, and begin every other single sentence with “as the President directed,“ or such. I believe that the VP is a capable person, but he has demeaned himself with such sycophant-like behavior.

One of the most fascinating developments has been the occasional absence of both Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx from the national briefings. In the case of Dr. Birx, she informed us that she self-isolated herself at home when she had a fever for several days. But she recovered and was tested negative for the virus, and now has returned to the updates. In Dr. Fauci's case, one wonders is he has been sidelined to remove the clear differentiation between his style and that of Mr. Trump. This was brought into clear contrast with the President's position that China should have told us about the disease back in September, 2019, as well as his continued referral of COVID-19 as "the China virus." Both these positions are incompatible with the facts. But perhaps a more vivid contrast is the President's optimistic opinion of Hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment, if not a cure to some extent, of the Coronovirus. This drug, approved for a decade for treatment of Malaria, has not been tested for  efficacy in terms of COVID-19, but has been in wide usage for its intended and approved usage. Mr. Trump seems optimistic, and after all, "what the hell do you have to lose?" Fauci, the scientist reminds us that no tests have been done and that we might discover unintended side-effects. None the less, sales are booming and the President has urged massive production increases in this Malaria treatment. The broad high-priority development of a true COVID-19 treatment continues unabated nonetheless. But the usual "Shtick" continues from Mr. Trump. Check your Yiddish definition here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtick

None of us has experienced such a disruptive event as this COVID-19 event. I fear things will get worse, both as the disease spreads, and also as an economic tsunami forms and becomes clear. With many of us hunkering down at home, it will be a while before the virus peaks and then finally wanes. Pent-up demand will surge when people feel they can start to live normally, but there are very deep human and economic scars that will last for decades.

3 Responses

  1. JK James George
    From Anon-1: (Note, this person is an MD.) Good morning Jim - enjoyed your posts as always. You wrote: But perhaps a more vivid contrast is the President's optimistic opinion of Hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment, if not a cure to some extent, of the Coronovirus. This drug, approved for a decade for treatment of Malaria, has not been tested for efficacy in terms of COVID-19, but has been in wide usage for its intended and approved usage. Mr. Trump seems optimistic, and after all, "what the hell do you have to lose?" Dr. Fauci, the scientist reminds us that no tests have been done and that we might discover unintended side-effects. None the less, sales are booming and the President has urged massive production increases in this Malaria treatment.
  2. JK James George
    From Anon-2: I read your blog on the COVID-19 press conferences, and have to say that I agree 100% with everything you say, with the exception of your comparison of the three major cable news networks. I just don't spend enough time watching them all to make a valid comparison, so I'll take your word. When Pence speaks at the press conferences he (and others) always start off thanking people, especially Trump. It makes me wonder if that is demanded by Trump going is as a requirement. I notice Drs. Fauci and Birx don't do that (praise Trump) nearly as much, if at all.
  3. Jim, Nice summary. Since I retired, I've made it a point to not watch the News. It only irritates me and everyone and I mean everyone has a spin. I prefer to do my own research, rely on my life experiences and make up my own mind. A talking head's opinion is worth no more than mine. They're all singing the company song for whatever network and the more professional they seem only means the better they are at entertaining. Ok enough of that. I think the President is handling this well overall and I want to comment on the perceived impatience by Trump with "tough" questions. First you have to remember this,Trump is not a politician, he is a business man who assumes competence among those he deals with. I've held very responsible jobs in the past, as you have Jim, when distressing issues arose, unique issues that required new thinking and new solutions. If someone asked me during that time, "why can't you do this faster", I might have reacted in a short way. Imagine Jim if the HR guy came to you and asked you why you couldn't build those phones faster and how could you not know what the competition is doing. I dare say, you would probably not be tactful in your response. In this way, I totally understand Trump's frustration, especially when every reporter in the room is about to apply their spin on the answer. I also marvel at how political a virus has become. One of my relatives called Trump racist because he called it the "China Flu". My only response to him, in these days of ultra PC comments, was "what are we allowed to call an influenza virus that originated in China?" What about the Spanish Flu, the Russian Flu, the Hong Kong flu and the Asian Flu. Those are all in the medical history books. So why does China Flu all of a sudden become racist. Governor's blame the President because their states weren't prepared, etc... Clearly a government can only provide direction, ultimately we have responsibility for our own health. I think we have gotten more than adequate direction and given the uniqueness of problems a Pandemic presents, it has been as timely as the best minds we have can implement. BTW, the potential for Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment came from the medical community, As you know my son is a Doctor and mentioned that to me a couple of days before Trump ever talked about it.. Like any leader in a crisis you look for rays of hope and chloroquine was and still is, a ray of hope. Hard for me criticize that. Another of his unspoken goals is to keep panic and pandemonium to a minimum, discussing potential treatments, providing economic relief and keeping people informed are tools to that end. Reporters putting a political spin on the narrative will not help achieve that objective, it will only continue the deep divide in our country. Someone said, "how about the media take 30 days off during the pandemic and let's watch 80% of our problems go away" Nice write-up Jim.

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