President Trump’s press conference calls out two enemies: coronavirus and the media

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March 20, 2020
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“Who is this person?!”

If you watched Thursday’s White House coronavirus news conference, you might have wondered who the heck that reporter was who asked President Donald Trump if criticizing his COVID-19 response is equivalent to siding with foreign state propaganda, Islamic radicals and Latin gangs and cartels?

That was Chanel Rion, a reporter for the far-right One America News Network, better known as OAN. To call Rion a “reporter” might be a stretch, since she floats conspiracy theories like how the coronavirus was created in a lab in North Carolina. She and OAN also have been at the center of several other controversies that make you wonder how either has a spot in a White House briefing room.

It should be noted that as Rion began her questions — which were the last questions of the news conference — Trump interrupted her to say, “OAN. Very good. Thank you very much. You treat me very nicely.”

Actually, Rion’s first question, which she used to set up her question about criticism of Trump, was so incredibly off the rails that it seems hard to believe that it was asked in an official White House news conference about a pandemic that is killing people.

Rion asked, “Do you consider the term ‘Chinese food’ racist because it is food that originates in China or has Chinese origins?”

Obviously, it was Rion’s way of setting up Trump to defend his constant referral to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”

But, ultimately, Rion’s questions weren’t so much questions as they were a set up for Trump to go off on a spiteful anti-media rant. At one point, Rion said, “On that note, major left-wing media, even in this room, have teamed up with Chinese communist party narratives, and they are claiming you are racist for making these claims about ‘Chinese virus.’”

She tossed the softball and Trump took a big swing.

“It amazes me when I read the things that I read,” Trump said. “It amazes me when I read The Wall Street Journal, which is always so negative. It amazes me when I read — The New York Times is not even — I barely read it. You know, we don’t distribute it in the White House anymore, and the same thing with The Washington Post.”

Forget that China has kicked reporters from The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post out of that country, Trump was just getting warmed up.

“Because you see, I know the truth,” he continued. “And people out there in the world, they really don’t know the truth. They don’t know what it is. They use different slogans and different concepts for me almost every week trying to catch something. Last week, it was, oh, chaos. You see me, there’s no chaos. No chaos. I’m the one telling everybody to be calm. There’s no chaos at the White House. We have unbelievable professionals. It’s really — I mean, I think I came up with the term, I hope I came up with the term, but it is fake news. It’s more than fake news, it’s corrupt news.”

That was just Trump’s parting shot. Earlier in the news conference, when asked by NBC News’ Kristen Welker why the U.S. wasn’t prepared for the pandemic with more testing, Trump said, “We were very prepared. The only thing we weren’t prepared for was — the media. The media has not treated it fairly.”

At another point, Trump scolded the media about social distancing, saying journalists in the briefing room were sitting too close together.

“We should probably get rid of another 75-80% of you,” Trump said. “I’ll just have two or three that I like in this room. I think that’s a great way of doing it. We just figured a new way of doing it.”

So, what do we make of these daily White House news conferences?

Yes, the president of the United States should be speaking to the nation regularly. This crisis is changing by the minute and we need the president and his team to give regular updates. We should all welcome and applaud a daily White House press briefing.

But, far too often, it feels as if Trump is turning these daily press conferences into Trump rallies — something he is unable to do right now because of the coronavirus. He spins grim news into bragging about how well he is handling this, even as each day brings more deaths, more problems and more dire projections. And one of his key messages, just like his rallies, is how awful and corrupt the media is.

“That was candidate Donald Trump at times,” said “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd during NBC News’ coverage of the press conference. “It feels like the grievances are back. Whatever focus was on being the wartime president over the last couple of days seemed to go out the window. He seems to be just looking for reasons to be upset about things and he certainly seems to not want to take any accountability on the testing debacle.”

What Trump fails to see is that the media’s job is to ask those who are supposed to know, starting with him, what is happening.

Where are the tests? Where are the supplies? How can we fix the economy? What is being done to find a vaccine?

These questions are not meant to undermine the president. But they aren’t meant to be easy questions either. They are meant to get answers to questions that are critical to our health and our economy. This virus is not a hoax or some sort of conspiracy invented to make the president look bad. The coronavirus is a real problem that needs a solution. The media is merely doing its job by asking those in charge about a solution.

That’s not corrupt. That’s not fake. That’s not evil.

That’s journalism.

Photo of the day

Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford captured the photo of the day Thursday. During the White House press conference on the coronavirus, Botsford captured President Trump’s prepared notes as Trump stood at the podium. The image clearly showed that the “corona” in the word “coronavirus” had been crossed out by a black marker. Above it, the word “Chinese” was written by hand.

Trump has been criticized by those who believe “Chinese virus” is a racist term amid concerns Chinese people are being blamed for the pandemic.

A new ballgame

Goals used by the NHL hockey club Nashville Predators are stored in a hallway in Bridgestone Arena with the league shut down by coronavirus. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

For coverage of the coronavirus, it’s all hands on deck. For example, many of the sportswriters at The Washington Post will now move over to covering coronavirus stories. Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon reports that the Post’s sports editors, in a memo to staff, wrote, “The reality, however, is that without basketball, hockey, baseball, golf, soccer, tennis and a host of other sports — along with the pages of results, standings and roundups that go with them — it is going to be impossible to fill even a 6-page daily Sports section for a while.”

Instead, starting Saturday, the Post’s sports section will be cut down to 2-3 pages and moved into the Style section. Other papers also are combining sports into other sections while no games are being played.

A palpable hue of anticipation

NFL star Tom Brady. (AP Foto/Steven Senne)

Looking for some positive news in the midst of all this coronavirus coverage? Here you go: ESPN is bringing back “ESPN8: The Ocho.”

“The Ocho” will actually be shown on ESPN2 starting midnight Sunday morning and will air a day’s worth of offbeat sports such as the Stupid Robot Fighting League, cherry pit spitting, sign spinning, putt-putt and stone skipping. The name comes from the fictional channel in the 2004 movie “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” This is the fourth year that ESPN is running “The Ocho” programming.

Meanwhile, over on ESPN, New England football fans can cry in their chowder as the network runs a seven-hour marathon from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday of Tom Brady’s greatest moments. The legendary quarterback announced this week that he is leaving the Patriots after 20 years, reportedly to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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