Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
The New York Times released a devastating report on Saturday which found that President Donald Trump had failed to respond to warnings from medical experts, intelligence agencies, and his own trusted adviser on trade issues over the dangers presented by COVID-19, losing valuable time to contain the pandemic as a result. Now, Fox News is scrambling to spin the report's damaging fallout in favor of Trump.
Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.
The president, though, was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy and batting away warnings from senior officials. It was a problem, he said, that had come out of nowhere and could not have been foreseen.
Trump himself angrily responded to it Sunday night:
Donald J. Trump✔@realDonaldTrumpThe @nytimes story is a Fake, just like the "paper" itself. I was criticized for moving too fast when I issued the China Ban, long before most others wanted to do so. @SecAzar told me nothing until later, and Peter Navarro memo was same as Ban (see his statements). Fake News!
123K10:08 AM - Apr 13, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy
Over at Fox News, there appear to be two different but overlapping tacks for responding to the controversy: 1) Declaring that Trump really did act correctly all along, and 2) Blaming others — such as the World Health Organization or Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — for the mistakes that have occurred. (Trump himself has retweeted a call to fire Fauci.)
And on top of that, Fox News personalities also say this is no time for recriminations — at least none that could damage the president — but instead, a time to move forward on solutions to the crisis at hand.
On the Sunday night edition of The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, the eponymous host — who has been a major advocate of ending the lockdowns — bluntly led by saying that Trump was right to refuse the earlier internal calls for shutdowns.
"We're hearing today that there was pushback against a shutdown in early February. Of course there was, and quite right, too," Hilton declared. "The president's instincts on this have been right all along. He's the one that has to consider all the implications of any decision including the social, economic, and yes, public health devastation of a shutdown."
Later in the program, Fox News contributor Raymond Arroyo cited the Times' report for a different purpose: to discredit Fauci for having told the public to not worry at the same time as he had been internally warning the Trump administration. (Of course, when those warnings threatened to reflect badly on Trump, Arroyo was quick to declare: "All of these narratives need to be put aside.")
From the April 12, 2020, edition of Fox News' The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton
RAYMOND ARROYO (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): But the very idea that we're going to lock down America, or Dr. Fauci's slipping narrative here — on February 29, he told The Today Show, you have nothing to worry about. The risk is minimal, risk is low, no need to change anything you're doing.
Well, now we read in The New York Times that he was ringing the alarm bells in January. All of these narratives need to be put aside. We need to look at the reality of what the American people are dealing with now, the hardship, and we've got to return this economy and the people back to work and back to life.
And on Fox & Friends, during the same appearance in which Fox News contributor Bill Bennett claimed that the coronavirus "was not, and is not, a pandemic," but was instead "panic and pandemonium as a result of the hype of this," he also turned to blaming Fauci, as "the reigning king of scientists," for the Trump administration's early response.
From the April 13, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Right, and Bill, it's been pointed out to me that even though you have military experts, the president ultimately makes the decision to go to war. But really, if you have medical experts, it doesn't mean the medical division decides when we open up or not, or how we open up or not. The economists, and the medical and the scientists, need a seat at the table. Do you agree?
BILL BENNETT (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Yes, they have input, that's what they have. New York Times trying to blast the president for not acting in January and putting everybody on notice. At the end of February, Dr. Fauci — who is the reigning king of scientists here — said there's no reason for anybody to change their normal way of doing business, at the end of February.
So, you know, he is the responsible party. His instincts, by the way — the president's — have been more correct than anybody else's. The models have been disastrous. But they have frightened the children and chased the public under their beds, and this is a shame.
On Monday morning's edition of America's Newsroom, co-anchor Ed Henry and guest Dan Henninger from The Wall Street Journal focused on the story as an ongoing feud between the president and The New York Times, which "has been trying to remove Donald Trump from office every day of publication," and blamed the WHO for making world leaders "all late to the call" as coronavirus threatened to become a pandemic.
From the April 13, 2020, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom
ED HENRY (CO-ANCHOR): A big New York Times piece the president's not happy about, that said, the headline, "He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump's Failure on the Virus. An examination reveals the president was warned about the potential for a pandemic but that internal divisions, lack of planning, and his faith in his own instincts led to a halting response." Your view on all this?
DAN HENNINGER (DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL): Yes, well, let us talk about The New York Times. The New York Times has been trying to remove Donald Trump from office every day of publication, starting with the afternoon of his inauguration, running through the Russian collusion narrative, up until the impeachment. And now they have seized on this story of unpreparedness as another reason for turning Trump out of office.
The fact of the matter is that the World Health Organization — and I read through that piece — the World Health Organization appears once in the New York Times piece. No indication that WHO called the pandemic on March 11, the same month that Trump called a pandemic. Everybody was looking at WHO for guidance, including the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Japan, and the rest of Europe. So they were all late to the call. It would have been better if they had done that in January, but the fact is that they all were looking to hold up until WHO made the call. None of that is in that Times article.
Just one quick fact-check of Henninger's remarks: The WHO declared a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" on January 30, an early step before the official pandemic declaration in March — a fact that was noted in the Times article that Henninger said he had read through. (Trump also declared a public health emergency the next day, January 31, and the Times article noted his decision then to restrict travel from China.)
But the purported Fox "news"-side anchor did not point out that the WHO was indeed taking actions and issuing warnings in January, contrary to the way Henninger presented it. Instead, Henry warned that "although there's going to be a lot of looking back," Fox News was "trying to look forward and figure out how we deal with this moving forward" — but there will be "a lot of questions raised about people at all levels of government."
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