It was the first question asked of President Trump at his Thursday press conference. Here’s the headline from Mediaite:
ABC’s Jon Karl Confronts Trump on Woodward Tapes: ‘Why Did You Lie to the American People?’
The president responded by saying this:
That’s a terrible question and the phraseology … I didn’t lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can’t be panicked.
These are a series of phone calls, mostly phone calls. Bob Woodward is somebody that I respect just from hearing the name for many, many years. Not knowing too much about his work, not caring about his work. But I thought it would be interesting to talk to him for a period of calls. So we did that. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I don’t know if the book is good or bad. Certainly if he thought that was a bad statement, he would have reported it because he thinks that, you know, you don’t want to have anybody that is going to suffer medically because of some fact. He didn’t report it because he didn’t think it was bad. Nobody thought it was bad. Wait a minute. And your question, the way you phrased that is such a disgrace. It’s a disgrace to ABC television network, it’s a disgrace to your employer. And that’s your answer.
Let’s be crystal clear here. Being calm and refusing to cause the American people to panic is not even close to lying about how bad the virus was. In fact, on March 16 the president, in a press conference, said this:
I’ve spoken, actually, with my son (Barron). He said, “How bad is this?” It’s bad. It’s bad.
Was Karl there that day? Did he pay attention when the president, in plain English, looked the White House press corps and the American people in the eye and said the virus was “bad”? That is hardly downplaying the virus.
As to the president comparing the virus to the flu, lots of Karl’s colleagues did just that. In fact, his own ABC News network was asking that very question, as seen right here. The ABC headline:
How does coronavirus COVID-19 compare to flu?
The ABC story was written because, quite obviously, the comparison was being made by many in the media, not just the president. This ABC story’s first section was headed:
The ways COVID-19 and flu are similar
Yes, ABC also said,
Many people who fall ill with the new coronavirus disease will experience mild, flu-like symptoms.
But COVID-19 is not the same as flu.
So far, the novel coronavirus appears more contagious, more deadly and has more potential to overwhelm the health system.
But why run the comparison at all? It was surely done because there were plenty of people in the media who were comparing the virus to the flu. Here, for example, is a headline from the Washington Post, hardly a bastion of Trumpism:
Get a grippe, America. The flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now.
The Post story began this way, bold print supplied for emphasis:
The rapidly spreading virus has closed schools in Knoxville, Tenn., cut blood donations to dangerous levels in Cleveland and prompted limits on hospital visitors in Wilson, N.C. More ominously, it has infected as many as 26 million people in the United States in just four months, killing up to 25,000 so far.
In other words, a difficult but not extraordinary flu season in the United States, the kind most people shrug off each winter or handle with rest, fluids and pain relievers if they contract the illness.
But this year, a new coronavirus from China has focused attention on diseases that can sweep through an entire population, rattling the public despite the current magnitude of the threat. Clearly, the flu poses the bigger and more pressing peril; a handful of cases of the new respiratory illness have been reported in the United States, none of them fatal or apparently even life-threatening.
Over at Vox was this now-deleted tweet: “is [coronavirus] going to be a deadly pandemic? No.”
At the Los Angeles Times, this was the headline:
For Americans, flu remains a bigger threat than coronavirus
The Times story began this way:
While a new virus that originated in China has prompted Americans to wear masks on the subway and cancel international trips for fear of falling ill, a much deadlier killer already stalking the United States has been largely overshadowed: the flu.
And on and on went the various mainstream media with their comparisons of the flu and the virus.
No mention of any of this from Karl, and certainly no mention that his own network felt compelled to headline:
The ways COVID-19 and flu are similar
Using Jon Karl’s reasoning his own network was lying.
But they weren’t. And neither was the president.
It boggles the mind that a reporter assigned to the White House has no understanding that a president should not be causing the American people to panic. And that to refuse to do so is “lying.” It is also astonishing that Karl would deliberately ignore that at that March press conference — at which, presumably, Karl was himself present — the president quite specifically said the virus was bad.
Not good. But one more example of just why the American people have lost their trust in the media.
Did the president lie about the virus? Of course not. The charge itself is a lie. Or, more politely put, it is Fake News.