Friday, March 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got into a debate with his medical experts and fights with reporters.

Since making a visible effort to "pivot" to taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, Trump has been holding daily press conferences. Many of those have featured Dr. Antony Fauci, a legendary figure in public health administration. Fauci has been forced into the position of having to publicly contradict Trump's false claims about cures or vaccines several times. 

It happened again today. A reporter asked Dr. Fauci about a drug that Trump claimed yesterday (incorrectly) as having been approved by the FDA to treat the coronavirus.

Q: And to Dr. Fauci, if I could.  Dr. Fauci — this was explained yesterday — there has been some promise with hydroxychloroquine as potential therapy for people who are infected with coronavirus.  Is there any evidence to suggest that, as with malaria, it might be used as a prophylaxis against COVID-19? 
DR. FAUCI:  No.  The answer is no.  And the evidence that you’re talking about, John, is anecdotal evidence.  So as the Commissioner of FDA and the President mentioned yesterday, we’re trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available, at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it’s truly safe and truly effective. 
But the information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal; it was not done in a controlled clinical trial.  So you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.

Trump stepped up to the podium and interjected:

TRUMP: ...It’s early.  But we’ve — you know, I’ve seen things that are impressive.  And we’ll see.  We’re going to know soon.  We’re going to know soon — including safety. 
But, you know, when you get to safety, this has been prescribed for many years for people to combat malaria, which was a big problem.  And it’s very effective.  It’s a strong — it’s a strong drug.  So we’ll see.
Q  It was also fairly effective against SARS. 
TRUMP:  It was a very — it was, as I understand that.  Is that a correct statement — it was fairly effective on SARS? 

Fauci then used the reporter's phrasing as an indirect way of contradicting Trump.

DR. FAUCI:  John, you’ve got to be careful when you say “fairly effective.”  It was never done in a clinical trial. They [never] compared it to anything.  It was given to individuals and felt that maybe it worked.

Trump took the rebuke without further comment, but when a reporter asked if he was giving Americans false hope, he began to lose his temper:

TRUMP:  Such a lovely question.  Look, it may work and it may not work.  And I agree with the doctor, what he said: It may work, it may not work. 
I feel good about it.  That’s all it is.  Just a feeling.  You know, I’m a smart guy.  I feel good about it.  And we’re going to see.  You’re going to see soon enough.

Visibly angry now, Trump lashed out at a reporter who was clearly trying to ask him a "softball" question that would allow him to offer words of comfort to worried Americans:

Q    I’ll just follow up.  Nearly 200 dead.  What do you say to Americans who are scared, though?  I guess, nearly 200 dead; 14,000 who are sick; millions, as you witness, who are scared right now.  What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared? 
TRUMP:  I say that you’re a terrible reporter.  That’s what I say.
Go ahead. 
Q    Mr. President, the units that were just declared — 
TRUMP:  I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.  The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope.  And you’re doing sensationalism, and the same with NBC and “Con-cast.”  I don’t call it — I don’t call it “Comcast,” I call it “Con-cast.” 
Let me just — for who you work — let me just tell you something: That’s really bad reporting, and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism.
Let’s see if it works.  It might and it might not.  I happen to feel good about it, but who knows.  I’ve been right a lot.  Let’s see what happens. John? 
Q    Can I get back to science and the logistics here? 
TRUMP:  You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Trump did not offer any words of comfort to Americans. This may be just as well: a few weeks ago, he confidently predicted that the first few cases in the United States would quickly "go to zero." As of Friday evening there were just under 20,000 Americans diagnosed with COVID-19, and millions more expected in the coming weeks.

So what?

  • The health and safety of Americans is more important than the president's ego.
  • Not being able to accept any evidence of failure is not a sign of good mental health.
  • It is not the media's fault that Americans are contracting a potentially fatal disease that the United States governme is poorly prepared to fight.