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Trump Was Right, Cuomo Was Wrong About Ventilator Needs

The media treated Cuomo’s claims of needing 30,000 ventilators as legitimate, and the Trump administration’s competing claims as dubious.


President Donald Trump was pilloried by the media for questioning whether New York would actually need 30,000 additional ventilators or 40,000 ventilators total as claimed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in late March. New models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show that New York already reached its peak projected ventilator usage on April 8, with a projected need of 5,008. The actual use may have been even lower.

As of press time, no media outlets revisited their reporting on the matter.

In late March, it was a huge story that Trump had told Sean Hannity he doubted that New York would need that many ventilators. Politico’s Quint Forgey and Matthew Choi framed the dust-up in their article headlined “Trump downplays need for ventilators as New York begs to differ“:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York says his state needs tens of thousands of ventilators to respond to the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump doesn’t believe him.

Speaking with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday night, Trump again minimized the impact of the infectious outbreak in the United States, casting doubt on the demand for so many of the respiratory devices in hospitals on the front lines of the disease.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

The rest of the story continued in that vein, treating Cuomo’s claims as legitimate and the Trump administration’s competing claims as dubious.

Cuomo was upset that the Trump administration had not acquiesced to his request and asked them to “pick the 26,000 people who are going to die.” He said, “the number of ventilators we need is so astronomical.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined in on the fun. His quotes were also favorably treated by Politico. “When the president says the state of New York doesn’t need 30,000 ventilators, with all due respect to him, he’s not looking at the facts of this astronomical growth of this crisis,” he said on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Cuomo also claimed the state would need 140,000 beds. The IHME model reports that peak bed use was projected to have been reached on April 8, with fewer than 23,000 beds needed. Cuomo’s projection was apparently off by a factor of more than six.

Here’s how other media framed Trump’s questioning of Cuomo’s claims:

  • The Guardian: “Trump on urgent requests for ventilators: ‘I don’t believe you need 30,000′”
  • CBS News highlighted Cuomo’s quote as evidence-based, contrary to Trump’s: “…everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, but I don’t operate here on opinion. I operate on facts, and on data, and on numbers, and on projections.” Of Trump, CBS News’ Audrey McNamara wrote: “The president did not echo the same tone of urgency about ventilators when he called into Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News Thursday evening.”
  • The Washington Post left no doubt where it stood with its headline, “Trump questions New York’s plea for critical equipment.” Reporters Allyson Chiu and Timothy Bella wrote a piece that quoted activist journalist Aaron Rupar and began, “President Trump cast doubt Thursday on New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s assertion that his state, which has become the epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, will need 30,000 ventilators to properly care for the influx of patients anticipated to flood hospitals in coming weeks.
  • Here’s the tweet from Aaron Rupar of Vox, who said “Trump’s coronavirus comments to Hannity were a mix of ignorance and malevolence that set the stage for preventable deaths in blue states”:

USA Today and many other outlets also covered the story.

In fact, PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor made major news when she asked President Donald Trump to defend his remarks about ventilator needs in a White House Press Conference. Trump falsely said he had never questioned the numbers, which she pointed out he had on Sean Hannity’s show.

In any case, since this was such major news just a few weeks ago, it is interesting how little media coverage is devoted to the fact that President Trump wasn’t just right about the exaggerated needs, but that he and his administration were even more right than they probably imagined.

Instead, the media kept the focus of their ire on Trump and continued to complain that he had correctly expressed concern over exaggerated claims:

It is apparently difficult for Sam Stein, of The Daily Beast and MSNBC, to understand a difference between a request for 100 ventilators and a request for 30,000 ventilators, even though the former is one-third of one percent of the latter, and even though it turned out Trump was correct to note the claimed need of tens of thousands was exaggerated.