The latest news cycle over President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis illustrates yet again how destructive the U.S. corporate media are to national unity and a clear understanding of reality.
While we are all aware that COVID-19 can be a truly devastating and deadly disease for some, despite the volume of media coverage dedicated to it in the past seven months, the American public still lacks crucial context for understanding Trump’s diagnosis. Not only has major media coverage not brought clarity, but it has also, as usual, obscured reality. This is especially harmful to a story with such significant potential ramifications for the nation and world.
As the president himself has alluded to in his post-diagnosis social media posts, it’s common knowledge that the Wuhan virus hits the elderly especially hard. Trump is 74. Yet even among his age demographic, surviving the disease, not death, is by far the norm.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s “current best estimate” based on the data so far, of Americans who are ages 70 and older, 94.6 percent who test positive for COVID will survive. Other countries have seen roughly similar survival rates. So the president’s odds are thankfully good.
They are improved by the fact that Trump is in relatively good health for his age and has the best medical care on the planet. In addition, medical professionals have learned a lot about how to treat COVID-19, and now have excellent success in doing so, especially when the infection is caught early. Trump’s was, since he is tested daily. Further, unlike the Americans who have been barred from effective coronavirus treatments due to anti-Trump animus, political correctness will not keep Trump from getting the best available treatments.
So while of course none of us knows the future, or can tell whether our president will against these good odds end up in the small minority of those who succumb to this disease, we have many reasons to hope and pray for the best.
Regardless of how things eventually work out for our president and nation, panic is never helpful. Panic impedes sensible responses to danger. Panic makes things worse, not better. Yet it is predictably what our nation’s media served up, along with a steaming side of wild conspiracy theories.
Trump tweeted a video update from the hospital at 6:51pm.
Ian Bremmer tweeted this 7 minutes later.
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) October 3, 2020
This person is a Vanity Fair writer and former New York Magazine writer who is working on a book about New York City’s experience with COVID-19. Notice how many retweets these got.
Sherman’s article linked to in this tweet falsely reports that Trump’s physician “told reporters that Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday—a day earlier than Trump previously disclosed.” Instead of asking an easy follow-up question to clarify the physician’s timeline for Trump’s diagnosis, reporters ran with false claims that the president had been diagnosed a day earlier than previously disclosed, causing them to inaccurately assert he had attended a donor event while knowingly COVID-positive.
Sherman also engages in the coy journalism trick of spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to discount it.
Some Trump allies are entertaining conspiracy theories that the White House outbreak was caused by someone with political motives. ‘It’s weird that all these Republicans are getting it,” a prominent Republican told me. ‘I don’t know what the [expletive] is going on. But one thing I’ve learned is: when something major happens thirty days before an election, it usually has to do with the election.’ (There is no evidence for this wild claim).
I guess it’s okay to spread conspiracy theories and hysterical quotes so long as you work at Vanity Fair and not InfoWars, and include the appropriate amount of wink-wink, nudge-nudge hedging in your copy.
Juliette Kayyem didn’t even do that. She is a national security analyst for — what else — CNN. Here she is on Twitter making yet another ridiculous, completely unsubstantiated Russian collusion claim. Again, note the retweet numbers.
Twitter even participated in the conspiratorial hysteria Sunday by trending the hashtag #Staged, which appears to have been started by the former Wall Street Journal and CNN reporter below. All this from the same crowd that loves to hate-report on QAnon and uses it as a smear against Trump and his supporters.
This hysteria was not limited to its usual breeding ground, Twitter. Major media published articles and TV segments full of wild conjecture. One prominent example of this was numerous outlets elevating an off-record suggestion the president’s health has been worse than his doctors have said on the record.
An NPR story about it summarizes the kind of emotion-ridden, confusing reporting going on that encourages baseless, gossip-fueled anxiety while obscuring positive factual information. After the first line, it says: “Trump is ‘doing very well,’ his physician told reporters on Saturday morning, but a source familiar with the president’s health later told White House pool reporters, that ‘the president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning.’ The Associated Press identified that information as coming from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.”
Later, the article attempts to spin positive facts from the president’s doctors by prefacing them with hyperventilating from an off-the-record, snippeted claim from a person with no medical experience: “Doctors briefing the press also painted a much rosier picture of the president’s health than the report from a White House official that the last 24 hours were ‘concerning.’ [White House physician Dr. Sean] Conley said that the president’s mild cough and fatigue are improving, that he has not had trouble breathing, and that he has not had a fever for 24 hours.”
Once again, the story became an opportunity to fabricate or deepen divisions among Trump’s personnel rather than focus on much more important issues that matter to Americans at large — such as presenting an accurate report about the president’s condition and his prospects for recovery or updating Americans on what kinds of treatments he is using or considering and their medical efficacy according to scientists.
Appears WH Chief of Staff Mark Meadows spoke to reporters & contradicted President’s doctor by saying Trump vitals over last 24 hrs were very concerning. Doesn’t give confidence that Chief of Staff wants to be anonymous or that WH & med teams can’t keep story straight. https://t.co/UWnEq4jgih
— Paula Reid (@PaulaReidCNN) October 3, 2020
There was also a good dose of glee should the worst happen to President Trump, despite the obvious major risks such an outcome would create for global and domestic stability:
Before a live studio audience in an indoor setting in a city where Broadway is shut down at least until 2021, here’s Chris Rock on SNL last night:
“President Trump is in the hospital from COVID. And I just wanna say my heart goes out to COVID.” Audience laughs, cheers. https://t.co/chEzYugTMD
— Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) October 4, 2020
Morning Consult poll finds 40 percent of Democrats say they are "happy" Trump tested positive. WaPo pretends they don't exist. https://t.co/z7R3oBpdUY
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) October 3, 2020
Back in reality, this was the concrete information we were getting from the White House and the president’s medical team over the weekend. The reports were cautious but also optimistic, speaking of doctors taking no chances but also having generally good news to report with each update.
Media: "Why transfer him to @WalterReedArmy?"
Dr. Conley: "Because he's the President of the United States." pic.twitter.com/Mhqx1dxZrk
— Ken Farnaso (@KLF) October 3, 2020
The facts released trended positively — the president not having a fever, having good blood oxygenation, hopes among his doctors that he could soon leave the hospital. Again, all this could change at any moment, but the factual information we have now does not legitimize the catastrophizing our media is vomiting all over-anxious Americans’ brains.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) October 4, 2020
BREAKING: President Trump has remained without a fever since Friday morning and could be discharged to return to the White House as early as tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/bEVJBzbkTq
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) October 4, 2020
Even if the president is doing worse than he and his medical team are letting on, putting a stiff upper lip on it is the only prudent course of action to protect the country from instability and foreign aggression during a time of perceived weakness. Facing danger resolutely is also simply the right thing to do.
When each of us must face death, either from COVID-19 or anything else in this dangerous world, which is the more honorable way to do it: As President Trump is, or as Joe Biden is? Anyone with a sound moral compass knows the answer.
The Venn diagram of overlap between people with sound moral compasses and the American press is unfortunately pretty slim. Trump’s diagnosis, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar (and many other media figures) claimed, is “a real-life example of the consequences of [Trump] shamelessly flouting the best medical and public-health guidance from his own government.” The left loudly claims to be against blaming the victim, but as we all know by now, all their supposed principles are subject to incineration before being applied to President Trump.
Kraushaar engaged in more victim-shaming in a weird closer that seemed to morally equate accidentally contracting a highly contagious illness with deliberately betraying one’s spouse: “Sen. Thom Tillis tested positive for coronavirus on Friday and Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham admitted to an extramarital affair later the same day. Pick your poison in November.”
Look, viruses aren’t political. They don’t infect only Republicans. They don’t infest anti-mask rallies and avoid Black Lives Matter rallies. They can even infect people who religiously wear masks and wash their hands constantly. Just ask health care workers.
It is not a moral failing to get sick. Unless someone deliberately infects himself — and such crazies do exist, but they are very few — an infection is an accident. The world is full of accidents. There is no way to make life completely safe, and sometimes attempting to do so may create more harm than good. This is an ancient truth.
President Trump knew the risks of staying in public, and he chose to face those risks along with the American people he leads, rather than hiding masked in the White House basement. There is something to be said for a leader getting in the trenches with his troops during a war despite the risks to his safety. It could even be called courage.
To many in our press, however, courage is only for fools. This attitude is precisely the opposite of every historic moral framework. Every serious moral philosophy teaches people how to suffer rather than how to avoid suffering at all costs. Thus in wiser eras, the people who made personal comfort their highest priority in life, and let fear drive their actions, were called selfish, hedonistic cowards and despised.