A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Numbers that matter right now:
The rapidly rising death toll. The projections of additional potential deaths in the weeks ahead. The length of time until the expected peak. The death rate. The number of confirmed cases. The number of people who have Covid-19 symptoms, but haven't been tested. The number of 911 calls in major metro areas like New York. The staffing levels at area hospitals. The number of available beds. The number of additional beds that may be needed. The current count of ventilators. The supplies of PPE. The capacity levels of local morgues. The unemployment rate. The length of time that social distancing measures will remain in effect. The modeled death toll if the restrictions are eased.
Numbers that don't matter right now:
That's why it was so disgusting to see President Trump bragging about the ratings for the White House's coronavirus task force briefings. Talking about ratings while people are dying and others are pleading for help? It is beneath any human being. I said on "CNN Newsroom" that members of Trump's inner circle need to intervene and help him get out of his own way.
But I'm not holding my breath. Trump launched into an anti-CNN tirade during a Sunday afternoon presser, claiming that the network is "not trusted anymore" and that "people are not watching CNN anymore."
Again let me say: TV ratings don't matter right now. Viewership is up, across the board, but networks are wary of publicizing the numbers for the same reasons that they didn't tout their record ratings after 9/11. I'm not going to get into all the specific metrics. But for purposes of fact-checking the president's lie, the month of March has been CNN's most-watched month since September 2005, when the Gulf Coast was recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
As an anchor and correspondent, I feel the pressure. I know that our ratings are well above average right now. People need reliable sources that aren't minimizing OR overstating the threat. That's what we have to keep doing. That's something the president should encourage, not seek to destroy.
Ratings reality check
Brian Lowry writes: It seems ridiculous to have to point this out right now, but here goes: Trump has a long history of exaggerating or outright lying about TV ratings, dating back to his claims that "The Apprentice" was the No. 1 show on TV long after it wasn't. And his series of tweets about viewership of his news conferences, quoting a NYT story that (certainly in terms of the headline) could have been a bit more sophisticated itself, overlook a series of disclaimers and qualifiers too long to mention...
→ Kevin Kruse tweeted: "If all you care about are your TV ratings, remember that President Nixon attracted an estimated 110 million viewers for his resignation speech."
"I think the president is doing very little other than watching media coverage right now," the NYT's Maggie Haberman told me on Sunday's "Reliable Sources."
"He doesn't have the rallies for the feedback. He's just watching television and having meetings about this issue, and I think he's more sensitive to negative coverage than he normally is... so what he's doing is lashing out."
→ The bottom line re: his recent spate of anti-media attacks: "He doesn't want people to believe real time accounts that they are seeing..."
"Reliable Sources" highlights
-- Doctors and nurses are alerting the public through social media, sometimes by smuggling videos out of hospital wards. Dr. Esther Choo said rules restricting press access at hospitals should be revisited so that the public has a view inside virus-stricken ERs. "Some of this information is important for public health," she said...
-- The New Yorker editor David Remnick said Trump's "lies," narcissism, and "lack of empathy" have "led to disaster. Has led to delay. And this will be -- and I think history will prove this -- this will be something that's paid in human lives. And that's an enormous tragedy..."
Stephen King's sharp critique of Trump's mixed messaging
The "Reliable" team had been working on booking Stephen King for months... and I had planned to fly to Florida to interview him in person. Instead, we talked via his webcam on Sunday morning. "People are saying to me 'we're living in a Stephen King world,' and all I can say is, boy, I wish we weren't," King said re: the horror novel nature of this moment.
>> King also said Trump's handling of the pandemic is "almost impossible to comprehend." Watch...
Trump lashes out at Alcindor, demands she "be nice"
Oliver Darcy writes: Amid a global pandemic killing thousands of Americans, Trump disparaged CNN, NYT, and PBS at his press conference on Sunday, while saving his praise for a fringe right-wing network that has a history of peddling conspiracy theories.
Trump lashed out at PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor and said she should be friendlier toward him. Trump's outburst came after Alcindor noted that Trump had previously told Sean Hannity he was not sure if states would actually need the total number of ventilators they have requested.
"Why don't you act a little more positive?" Trump asked. He added, "Be nice. Don't be threatening. Be nice." Alcindor pushed back, noting she was effectively repeating what he had previously told Hannity, but Trump wasn't having it. When Alcindor came to ask her second Q, Trump cut her off and the microphone was taken away from her...
Diamond gives back the mic
Darcy continues: When Trump called on him later in the press conference, CNN's Jeremy Diamond instead handed Alcindor the mic so that she could ask her second question. Alcindor asked which health experts Trump had spoken to that had said more people could die from an economic recession than the virus. Trump didn't directly answer.
After the press conference, Alcindor tweeted, "I'm not the first human being, woman, black person or journalist to be told that while doing a job. My take: Be steady. Stay focused. Remember your purpose. And, always press forward."
"These are direct quotes, sir."
Darcy adds: When Diamond got a chance to ask his question, he pressed Trump on last Friday comments about not phoning governors who are not "appreciative." Trump accused Diamond of lying and taking him out of context, but Diamond pointed out that he was reading "direct quotes." As Daniel Dale put it, "Reporters read Trump quote back to him, Trump denies and attacks." Check out Dale's fact-check here, titled "Trump falsely denies saying two things he said last week..."
Trump praises OANN
Darcy sends one more note: At the presser, Trump lavished praised on a personality from the far-right cable channel One America News. The attendee asked Trump for a response to networks that are wary of airing his lengthy press conferences in full. "Boy that's a nice question," Trump said. "Thank you very much." When Trump called on her for a second time, she bizarrely asked the same question again... which is quite revealing, when you think about it...
FOR THE RECORD
-- Applause for health care workers is nice, Jake Tapper said Sunday, but "politicians getting them the box of N95 masks, that would be even better. The fact that too many professionals don't have them — that's a national disgrace." (Mediaite)
-- Manuel Roig-Franzia and Sarah Ellison report on the "history of the Trump war on media..." (WaPo)