President Trump Is More Focused on TV Ratings than Saving Lives from COVID-19

April 10, 2020 | 2:26 pm
Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Michael Halpern
Former contributor

For weeks, the White House coronavirus response press briefings have been a dangerous exercise of misinformation. And now the White House is retaliating against media outlets that don’t carry the White House press briefings in their entirety by preventing those outlets from speaking with CDC experts.

The president routinely spreads false and often contradictory information during the daily events, which misleads the public and results in confused state, local, and individual decision-making. Scores of scientists and media critics have begged media outlets not to cover the press conferences live, and some networks have indeed begun to cut back their coverage.

Against both established policy and good practice, the White House often acts as a filter for CDC communications. And this week, the White House played chicken with CNN: air the entire briefing or we will keep CDC experts off your network. Yesterday, when CNN went public after days of muzzling, the vice president’s office backed off.

Then yesterday, the president gleefully tweeted a claim that the “ratings” these events are getting rival The Bachelor and Monday Night Football:

People tune in to hear current information from the government about the extent of the epidemic and how to protect themselves and their families. Yet President Trump’s tendency to think of this pandemic as a public relations opportunity, not as a public health challenge, hampers our ability to stop people from getting sick and dying.

The president, of course, is not the only one in the White House with this method of operation. The Trump administration has been rightfully excoriated for failing to provide medical workers with protective equipment. Yet hours after Jared Kushner erroneously said that the federal equipment stockpile was not for states to use, the Department of Health and Human Services changed its website to reflect Kushner’s view. I wonder where that order came from.

We need clear, reliable, consistent, and honest information from experts. And as long as the White House can keep scientists on a leash, we won’t be as prepared as we could be. That’s why we’ve continued to speak out when scientists are muzzled for political reasons, and filed a formal complaint under the CDC Scientific Integrity Policy.

The president seems to care more about his image than the health of all Americans. So, in a vacuum of leadership, it is up to all of us to amplify the messages of public health officials and actual experts so they stick.