We’re going to take our time with Trump’s press conference Friday afternoon. Here’s why.
A few weeks ago, back when President Trump’s coronavirus gibberish was a mix of bad medical advice and inaccurate disease forecasts, Rolling Stone delivered some sage guidance: Ignore what this man says. It was good guidance. Then, unfortunately, our politics editor forgot all about it.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when Trump held a rare Oval Office address to lay out what he said would be his administration’s plan to address the disease, which — contrary to what he’d said last week — is very much not under control and is spreading across the country. As news outlets do, we covered the address, reporting what the world’s most powerful person said was coming next.
Except, via some mix of malice and incompetence, Trump got his own plan wrong — in critical ways.
Trump has spread lies about the availability of tests and carelessly ad-libbed when he addressed the nation on Wednesday night, saying that the European travel ban would also apply to “trade and cargo.” The president’s statement sent stock markets plunging and White House aides and Jared Kushner scrambling to frantically reverse the president and post a tweet correcting the disinformation without admitting the error. “Please remember,” Trump said, “trade will in no way be affected.” As if that was what he said in the first place.
Hoping to get the payroll tax cut approved by both Republicans and Democrats, and please remember, very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2020
Trump also said during the speech that the ban on travel from Europe to the United States would apply to everyone except for “Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.” Again, that was not true. We later learned that American citizens are exempt.
Trump’s third lie during the speech came when he said American insurance companies “agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments.” But a spokesperson for AHIP, a lobbyist arm for health insurance companies, who spoke with Politico‘s Sarah Owermohle disputed that, saying they agreed to waive co-payments “for testing, not for treatment.”
Trump's claim tonight that health insurers "have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments" seems to be news to them.
“For testing. Not for treatment.” a spokesperson for the major insurance lobby AHIP says.
— Sarah Owermohle (@owermohle) March 12, 2020
In addition to disinformation, the speech was filled with nationalist rhetoric, calling coronavirus a “foreign virus.” The speech was a last-minute decision and was written by Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller with significant dictation from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told colleagues the speech “was a terrible idea.”
White House officials — who for years have passed off direct contradictions of what Trump says as “clarifications” — later corrected the president’s lies, mistakes, and misinformation, but not before the confusion fed uncertainty and panic at a time when that is going around in droves.
Now, it’s Friday, and Trump is holding another press conference, this time to declare a national emergency to facilitate the federal response to the disease. That’s not a bad plan. And we, like you, are eager to hear the details of what that means.
But we’re not going to do you the disservice, dear reader, of immediately repeating what Trump says is coming next. Our job is to, as best as we can, keep you informed. And, as crazy as it is to say, repeating what the president says — even about his own plans — is not an effective way to do that.
Trump might get it right this time, but he might not. So this time, we’re going to wait. We’ll watch the address, get the straight story from Trump’s underlings, and then report on what’s ACTUALLY going on. A pandemic is scary enough — and broadcasting the advice of a self-serving panic-mongerer won’t fix that.
We’ll see you back here when the president’s advisers are done cleaning up his mess.