Trump Disputes Ominous Death Projections With Fox News Talking Points
Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
In an interview with ABC anchor David Muir, President Donald Trump repeated Fox News talking points about coronavirus models. This was his first broadcast network television interview since he spoke to NBC's Chuck Todd in June 2019.
Fox News personalities have been using the wide array of COVID-19 models and projections to cast doubt on all modeling predicting the number of coronavirus-related cases and deaths. In response to rising projections of COVID-19 deaths in the country -- and seizing on confusion about the number of the models, what they mean, and which ones are used by whom -- Fox figures are downplaying the accuracy of models in general, calling them "a bit of a crapshoot," and dismissing their predictions since "we don't factor in human ingenuity."
In his interview on ABCWorld News Tonight, Trump directly echoed that language:
From the May 5, 2020, edition of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir
DAVID MUIR (ANCHOR): You talk about the embers and the possible big fires. There were two new studies out in the last 24 hours. I know that the White House has shot down a couple of them saying they weren't vetted through your task force. One was from Johns Hopkins that said, the death rate could double if we're not careful with this reopening of America by June, the daily death rate. The University of Washington saying we could have 135,000 Americans dead by August. What do you make of those numbers, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A couple of things. First of all, these models have been so wrong from day one. Both on the low side and the upside. They've been so wrong, they've been so out of whack. And they keep making new models, new models and they're wrong. Those models that you're mentioning are talking about without mitigation. We're mitigating and we've learned to mitigate, but we can be in place, work in place, and also mitigate. We've done it right, but now we have to get back to work. We have to do it.
MUIR: But let me ask you because you've responded to those two new studies out with these forecasts, your own numbers have shifted over time.
TRUMP: They have. They have.
MUIR: You said 60,000 Americans could die. That's what you said last week, I watched your town all over the weekend. You said 75, 80 to 100,000 people could die. Which models are you looking at, and what should Americans be prepared for as we reopen the country and head into the fall where we could see a potential second wave?
TRUMP: Well, the upper number was, as you know, 2.2 million people. And then there are some, some models or charts that showed higher than that. But 2.2 million people. I always felt 60, 65, 70 -- as, as horrible as that is. I mean, you're talking about filling up Yankee stadium with death. So I thought it was horrible, but it's probably going to be somewhat higher than that.
In the interview, Trump repeated his mischaracterization of the models from earlier in the day, wrongly saying that they assume "no mitigation." In fact, as Vox noted, the models "are based on the relaxation of social distancing that Trump has been championing." Muir did not note this.
Here's how Fox figures have talked about coronavirus models in recent days
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld: "That's the amazing thing about how climate models and disease models can never predict much, because we don't factor in human ingenuity."
Neil Cavuto, Fox News senior vice president, anchor, and managing editor of business news: The variance in projection models "just seems to me to be a bit of a crapshoot here."
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: "One thing is pretty certain: The models that we have been told to deal with have consistently been wrong, on the plus side and the negative side."
Fox News anchor Ed Henry: "The question seems to be, can we -- nobody is perfect, but can we trust this model when it keeps bouncing around like this?"
Ed Henry again: "There's all these models. … I think the bottom line is, people are wondering, are these models that seem very confusing and all over the place, that's what's being used to decide whether or not people remain on lockdown, and that's getting some people frustrated."
Fox News prime-time host Laura Ingraham: "About all of those bad models: The experts were all over the place in projecting the virus's lethality. … If you're not confused yet, now they're saying that 120, 134,000 could die from COVID by August. What? That's double what they were saying a few weeks ago."
Fox Business anchor Cheryl Casone: It "makes sense" for the White House to disagree with the projection showing 3,000 daily COVID-19 deaths because models have been "all over the place."
Fox hosts aren't alone in their nihilistic quest to undermine models. Conspiracy theorist Rush Limbaugh, whom Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February, has repeatedly argued against all scientific models, once claiming, "The bias I have against modeling is justified, because it comes from climate change."
Was Trump correct stating the COVID-19 models were “wrong from day one”?
Once again, Trump was wrong. According to a study by the University of Cambridge, “…experts such as epidemiologists and statisticians made far more accurate predictions than the public.” For instance, during the study, experts and non-experts were asked to predict the infection fatality rate (IFR) of COVID-19 by the end of 2020. In the United Kingdom, experts expected 9.5 British residents out of a thousand who were infected would die from the COVID-19 virus. Meanwhile, non-experts thought 40 people out of a thousand would die from COVID-19. At the end of 2020, the IFR of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom was 11.8, much closer to the experts’ prediction.
Did Trump's prediction of 60,000 Americans dying from COVID-19 come true?
As usual, Trump’s prediction didn’t exactly pan out. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 1.1 million Americans have died from the COVID-19 virus. In fact, in Trump’s current home state of Florida, over 85,000 Floridians have succumbed to the coronavirus. Other U.S. states that eclipsed Trump’s false prediction include California, New York and Texas. Trump’s prediction is even worse when considering COVID-19 deaths outside of the United States. The total number of deaths worldwide due to COVID-19 is 6.8 million as of February 2023. This total is approximately 113 times worse than Trump predicted.
Was Trump correct in calling for the end of mitigation measures, such as “work from home”?
Once again, Trump was not correct. Mitigation measures, such as working from home, saved lives before COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in 2021. According to one study, “…stay-at-home orders might have reduced confirmed cases by 390,000…and fatalities by 41,000…within the first three weeks in localities that implemented stay-at-home orders.” If Trump succeeded at ending mitigation measures, many more Americans could have died from COVID-19.
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