There are times in the life of a body politic when conventional wisdom grows out of falsehoods. The danger of such a situation is that once it takes hold few people will actually look beyond the deception to discover the truth. We are living through just such a moment as much of our news media perpetrates a lie that the Trump administration was doing nothing to combat the novel coronavirus during January and February.
Last week, The Federalist obtained the January timeline of virus response from the Department of Health and Human Services. What it showed was a robust response to the pandemic that was not yet a pandemic; that began well before China reported its first coronavirus death on January 11. In fact, on January 9 the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already begun work on diagnostic tests and a vaccine.
Mind, you this was happening while China was blatantly lying about the gravity of the virus and claiming it had all of 41 cases total, and that there was no human to human transmission. Throughout January the Trump administration would ramp up travel bans and free up 105 million dollars to fight the coronavirus while standing up its task force.
This brings us to February. In a tweet, Dispatch co-founder Jonah Goldberg conceded that the travel ban had bought the United States time, but then asked what did the administration do in February? White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah was happy to provide Goldberg with a rather comprehensive answer based on the February timeline. The whole thread is worth reading.
Glad you asked, @JonahDispatch. Thread:
Feb 2: CDC expanded enhanced entry screening to 8 major airports
Feb 4: FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the CDC diagnostic
Feb 5: Trump Admin officials briefed lawmakers on the Federal Govt’s coronavirus response efforts. https://t.co/V8eAKqBQVT
— Alyssa Farah (@Alyssafarah) May 4, 2020
Here is a sampling of what the White House was doing according to Farah:
Feb. 2: CDC expanded enhanced entry screening to 8 major airports.
Feb. 4: FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the CDC diagnostic.
Feb. 5: Trump Admin officials briefed lawmakers on the Federal Govt’s coronavirus response efforts.
Feb. 14: CDC announced their ongoing work with five labs to perform community-based influenza surveillance and study the spread of coronavirus.
Feb. 18: HHS announced it has engaged Sanofi Pasteur in order to develop a coronavirus vaccine and treatments for coronavirus infections.
Feb. 24: The Admin requested $2.5 billion from Congress to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
What both the January and February timelines make clear is that far from ignoring the threat of the Chinese virus, the administration was working daily to prepare for it. And mind you, they were doing so based on nonsensical lies from both China and their lapdog the World Health Organization. It was not until early March that Italy began providing the world with accurate information about the spread of the virus. Within two weeks of that, most of the United States was in lockdown.
Part of the blame for the public’s poor understanding of the realities of the Trump administration’s response lies with the president himself. Even while the White House was working feverishly on the virus, his tone was too often dismissive, and he said things such as, anyone who wants a test can get a test, which at the time simply wasn’t true.
Trump’s overly optimistic rhetoric and his penchant for off-the-cuff hyperbolic statements damaged perceptions of the response. But he had reasons for this, for one thing he was trying to save the economy, and for another he was trying to avoid mass panic. But notwithstanding Trump’s errors in his discourse on the virus, the facts show that behind the scenes the work was being done.
This is where whatever fault may lay with Trump, far more fault lies at the feet of the news media. Once again they made Trump’s tone the centerpiece of the story, not even bothering to find out or report on what the administration was actually doing. It was a lazy jump to a kneejerk position that has become all too familiar in the age of Trump. And as usual it left the American people woefully misinformed.
The inescapable bottom line is that regardless of the news media’s lies, the Trump administration did not ignore the threat of coronavirus. They tackled it head on. The media didn’t just play the American people, they played themselves too. Just a week ago, half the news outlets in America were breathlessly saying that HHS Secretary Alex Azar was about to be fired. He wasn’t.
How did they get that story so wrong? Easy, they convinced themselves of the false narrative they were selling to the American people that the early response was a disaster. Trump of course knew the truth, and praised Azar instead of burying him. The media showed no contrition, they just moved along continuing to ignore the facts.
There is no question that the coronavirus response will be an issue, if not a fundamental one, in the November election. The Trump administration must do a better job setting the record straight because we know the news media won’t. The facts are on the side of the White House. How clearly they can present them to the voters may well tell the difference between reelection and a Joe Biden presidency, the latter being exactly what the media lies are meant to ensure.