A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Viewers of Monday's White House briefing on the coronavirus saw a president in meltdown mode, clearly rattled by the reporting of national news outlets.
President Trump acted like he is at war with the media instead of Covid-19. His instability was on full display. He attempted to argue against The New York Times' damning examination of his delayed response to the virus. He threw up smokescreens and tried to point the finger back at the media. He tossed to an anti-media propaganda video, which was partly ripped off from Sean Hannity's show, and which caused CNN and MSNBC to cut away from the briefing.
"That was propaganda," John King said in no uncertain terms on CNN. "That was not just a campaign video. That was propaganda aired at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room."
"I think this is one of the astonishing acts of disinformation we've seen from a White House since the Vietnam era and the 5 o'clock follies of the Lyndon Johnson administration," guest Howell Raines said on MSNBC.
Look, the video was nothing short of disgraceful. But it did do us a service — by showing us where Trump's head is at. He is fixated on the past — and by the news media's scrutiny of the federal government's failures to protect the public. He should be talking about the present and about the future pathways out of this emergency. His aides and allies should be helping him get back on track, rather than celebrating his reckless attacks against reporters. Cue Laura Ingraham on Fox Monday night: "I thoroughly enjoyed today's Coronavirus task force briefing. That was great. It was a tour de force!"
Credible news orgs have taken the virus seriously for months
Oliver Darcy emails: Trump flatly lied when he asserted at the briefing that mainstream news organizations didn't take the coronavirus seriously early on. It's just not true. The virus was prominently featured on the front pages of major newspapers like NYT and WaPo during the impeachment trial in January. And CNN extensively covered it in January and February. CNN has posted a long list of examples here...
My two cents
Trump wants to play small ball -- he wants to fight with the media -- because those fights work for him. Let's keep the focus on the questions he is not answering. Where are the tests? Where are the plans? Where is the empathy for the thousands of families mourning the losses of loved ones?
CNN's chyrons call out Trump in black and white
Oliver Darcy writes: Those who watched CNN during the WH briefing saw the network bluntly call Trump out. One CNN chyron declared, "ANGRY TRUMP TURNS BRIEFING INTO PROPAGANDA SESSION." Another chyron said, "TRUMP USES TASK FORCE BRIEFING TO TRY AND REWRITE HISTORY ON CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE."
Meanwhile, on Fox, the chyrons told a starkly different story. Instead of fact-checking Trump, the network just repeated his falsehoods. One said, "TRUMP: I WAS 'BRUTALIZED' BY PRESS." Another said, "TRUMP: WE DID 'AN INCREDIBLE JOB.'" And a third blared, "TRUMP: PRESIDENT HAS 'TOTAL AUTHORITY.'"
Mediaite says the two networks were reporting "from alternate universes..."
Kudos to Reid and Collins
Oliver Darcy continues: The White House press corps went toe-to-toe with Trump and pressed him repeatedly on a range of topics. CBS correspondent Paula Reid was unyielding as she asked Trump a series of sharp Q's. Reid asked Trump what his administration did in the month of February, leading up to the crisis. And she asked how Americans could be comforted by his unhinged behavior. Trump didn't directly answer, resorting only to attacking Reid and her network.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins also grilled Trump: "You said when someone is President of the United States, their authority is total," Collins told Trump. "That is not true. Who told you that?" Collins didn't get a clear answer, and when she tried to continue her line of questioning, Trump held up his hand and told her, "Enough." Kudos to both Reid and Collins for being unflinching in their questioning of POTUS...
In an alternate universe...
Oliver Darcy adds: I know this has become a cliché thought experiment, but please oblige me: Can you imagine how the hosts and pundits on Fox News and in the greater conservative media landscape would have reacted if President Obama walked out into the White House briefing room and declared that his "authority is total"? It's really, quite honestly, a bit hard to fathom how frantic the coverage would have been. It would have been apocalyptic. Off the rails. Crazed. But with Trump? None of that...
What Trump is hearing from Hannity
Many right-wing media celebrities are groaning about the stay-at-home orders and urging a return to normalcy ASAP -- even though public health experts are warning about dire consequences if the restrictions are prematurely relaxed.
With that in mind, here's what Trump's trusted adviser Sean Hannity said to Texas governor Greg Abbott on Monday night: "I think most states can reopen even sooner than later -- we don't have to wait til May 1 -- but it's going to be more challenging in a city like New York..."
-- Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC an hour later: "Every word that the president says about reopening the country is pure posturing, it is pure propaganda..."