Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
The New York Times on April 11 reported that various officials in President Donald Trump's administration sounded the alarm on the novel coronavirus in January, but the president "was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly." While medical experts appeared on Fox News Sunday and State of the Union to discuss the story -- with Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledging that lives could have been saved had Trump acted sooner -- and Meet the Press discussed it as well, This Week and Face the Nation failed to cover the Times report at all.
According to the Times' reporting, Trump repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak even as experts were making clear that aggressive action was needed:
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.
The shortcomings of Mr. Trump's performance have played out with remarkable transparency as part of his daily effort to dominate television screens and the national conversation.
But dozens of interviews with current and former officials and a review of emails and other records revealed many previously unreported details and a fuller picture of the roots and extent of his halting response as the deadly virus spread.
The Times' report went on to list several intelligence reports, memos, and direct warnings to Trump that went unheeded for crucial weeks, and listed numerous failures and delays in the actions the administration did finally decide to carry out. (There was so much reporting that the Timespublished a follow-up piece summarizing all of it.) The paper also highlighted key email exchanges on the response, including from a former Bush and Obama adviser who wrote that "we have thrown 15 years of institutional learning out the window." The paper published 80 pages of these emails.
On Sunday morning, the Timesreported that more than 20,600 Americans have died with the coronavirus, and on Friday more than 2,000 people died in a single day for the first time. The Times has previously reported that the U.S. death toll is being undercounted.
On the April 12 edition of CNN's State of the Union, anchor Jake Tapper asked Fauci, who serves on the White House's coronavirus task force, whether lives could have been saved had Trump acted earlier. Fauci replied that it's hard to say what would have happened, but "obviously you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives."
From the April 12, 2020, edition of CNN's State of the Union:
JAKE TAPPER (ANCHOR): The New York Times reported yesterday that you and other top officials wanted to recommend social and physical distancing guidelines to President Trump as far back as the third week of February, but the administration didn't announce such guidelines to the American public until March 16th, almost a month later. Why?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, Jake, as I've said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint. We make a recommendation. Often the recommendation is taken. Sometimes it's not. But it is what it is. We are where we are right now.
TAPPER: Do you think lives could have been saved if social distancing, physical distancing, stay-at-home measures, had started the third week of February instead of mid-march?
FAUCI: You know, Jake, again, it's the what-would-have, what-could-have. It's very difficult to go back and say that. I mean, obviously you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. But you're right, I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.
On Fox News Sunday, Dr. Tom Inglesby of Johns Hopkins University's Center for Health Security said Trump's delayed actions hurt the nation's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
From the April 12, 2020, edition of Fox's Fox News Sunday :
CHRIS WALLACE (ANCHOR): Joining us now from Baltimore, Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at John Hopkins -- Johns Hopkins University. Doctor, let's start with that New York Times report that from January on, top public health officials were warning the president about the threat from the pandemic, and that he did not take action until mid-March. One, what's your reaction to the report, and how much did those lost weeks cost us?
DR. TOM INGLESBY (DIRECTOR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY): So, Chris, I can't say who in the administration knew what and when, but I would say that that article reinforces what we've heard along the way, which is that many in the administration were very worried about this as early as January and February. That seems pretty clear now. And I'd also say that if we had acted on some of those warnings earlier, we would be in a much better position in terms of diagnostics and possibly masks and personal protective equipment and getting our hospitals ready.
WALLACE: When you say "be in a much better position," if we had imposed social distancing, stay-at-home, at the end of January, and early February, would there be a dramatically less number -- smaller number of cases and deaths?
INGLESBY: I'm not sure we would've been able to get the collective political will to do it as early as January and February because we didn't really know when we had cases, but if we had done a lot of diagnostic testing earlier it's possible we would have seen enough disease to get the will to do that in February and, yes, the earlier we put in place social distancing, the earlier we would have gotten to a peak and to a better place where we can start to think about responding.
And NBC's Meet the Press moderator, Chuck Todd questioned Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn about an email from the Times story, asking, "Do you feel like you had enough institutional knowledge to deal with this pandemic?"
But a Media Matters review of the programming and SnapStream transcript of ABC's This Week and CBS' Face the Nation revealed that both programs failed to even mention this blockbuster Times report.
Earlier in the pandemic, the Sunday shows collectively failed to cover another aspect of Trump's botched coronavirus response -- his administration's 2018 firings of the pandemic response teams at the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security.