Coronavirus: Trump berates media for breathtaking briefing


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Media captionCBS reporter challenges President Trump at briefing

Monday morning, I had a delivery to my apartment from the unlicensed – or liquor store, as we say here.

And I posted a wacky photo on Twitter of a bottle of gin and eight bottles of tonic, with the caption that at least the next week I had sorted.

After leaving the White House newsroom on Monday evening after a two-hour, 24-minute marathon press conference, I felt like I could have knocked it off in one sitting.

It was the most dizzying, breathtaking, biggest press conference in the world and the most spinning press conference I have ever attended. And I was at Bill Clinton’s press conference in 1998 when he first faced the press about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

I was at this president’s first White House rally when he called me “another beauty.” I was in Helsinki when he had his first press conference with Vladimir Putin, and seemed to prefer to believe the Russian leader in his own heads of security and intelligence on the interference in the 2016 elections.

I was in Vietnam when Mr. Trump gave a press conference after his talks with Kim Jong-un collapsed without ceremony. So I sat on caps.

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What made the meeting last night unique is the context. And second, it was, if you will, a distillation – all the talk about gin, I think, forced me to use that word – in a press conference on what Donald Trump’s three and a half years have summer cover.

There are more than 23,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus and more than half a million infected – and remember that in early March, Donald Trump said there were a handful of cases, but what would soon be zero.

However, Donald Trump entered the briefing room with scores to be settled with the media. These were not the dead, the hopeless, the people who were afraid of getting the virus. It was about him. And more particularly his deep sense of grievance that the media has criticized his handling of Covid-19.

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If you think this is an unfair exaggeration, after a few moments, he said he was going to play a video. It was produced by White House staff, although it carried all the characteristics of a campaign video. If it were a film, it would have been titled “Coronavirus: Why Donald Trump is Great – and the Media Awful”.

One of the journalists quoted in the film would complain immediately after his remarks were taken out of context.

If you watched the press conference on television, you would have seen the film. But in the briefing room, where I had my point of view, Donald Trump looked at us in turn, then pointed and smirked then smiled, as if to say “Look at all the losers – I nailed you with that”.

Contempt seemed to ooze from every pore. The centerpiece of the president’s argument is that at the end of January, he stopped numerous flights from China, which saved countless thousands of American lives.

Paula Reid of CBS pushed back forcefully, arguing that no matter how bold it was, there was no meaningful action in February when testing was minimal and precious time wasted.

The president was furious. You could see the fury going through him when he was extremely rude to her (he didn’t respond to the details of his arguments however). He called it “false” and “shameful.”

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Media captionJon Sopel addresses President Trump at Monday’s press conference

So here we have a president who apparently hates us. But. But. But. He stayed and answered questions for an hour and a half. It was like a group on a farewell tour that still wanted a reminder. He likes that. He is in his element. And he hates us too.

Going back to my previous experience with press conferences, I still think you’re in luck if you get to ask a question. Most often, you can’t ask one – especially if you’re from a foreign news organization. I think I asked the president five questions (and one of them got “this is a very good question” – 10 points for me). He likes to get involved.

This president is more accessible than any senior politician I have ever known. And who can complain? He stood there and answered all the questions for a while, knowing full well that it was playing out on all American networks – and around the world, given the range of messages I have received from everyone. But it is also confusing. You feel that he wants to be loved and you cannot understand him when he does not come.

Then there is the power. The coronavirus is unlike any enemy it has faced before. It is unlike any enemy we face, because it has no face. And Donald Trump is great when there is a name and a face. “Lyin‘ Ted “,” Sleepy Joe “,” Crooked Hillary “,” Little Marco “- and so on. But it’s really useless to insult a virus. He does not respond and seems completely indifferent to his names.

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Before the White House, the president ran a family business where everyone answered him. At the press conference on Monday evening, he looked like he wanted to run America like this.

He said he wanted to reopen the United States as quickly as possible – if you’re interested, my questions and answers with him were about the feasibility of this, a laudable ambition. But is it his prerogative or that of the 50 state governors? Remember, the United States has a federal constitution.

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Last night, Donald Trump had no doubt that it was up to him to decide when America would have lifted the shutters and changed the panel on the door from “closed” to “open.”

But whether it was up to the individual states to decide when it was appropriate to issue “shelter on the spot” orders – and the president said he could not order six states controlled by Republican governors to impose social distancing – how can it be his prerogative to order the opposite?

After listening to the president, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York State, said: “The constitution says that we have no king. To say that I have total authority over the country because I am the president is absolute, he is a king. We didn’t have a king, we didn’t have a king George Washington, we had President George Washington. “

This is not how the guy who ran the family business sees it.

At the end of this press conference descent into the roller coaster, I tried to make sense of it by leaving the White House.

Like so many in this divided country, I suspect it is all about knowing where you are. His supporters likely liked him sticking it to the media the moment he entered the briefing room.

His opponents will have been dismayed to be able to place the cover of his own management of the crisis above the suffering of the American people.

Before going to the briefing room last night, I had to have my temperature taken in a tent that had been erected just outside the White House grounds on Pennsylvania Avenue. And I had to have it resumed before I could enter the briefing room.

Fortunately, they did not have blood pressure. I am sure that a few people – participants and observers – would have had very different readings before and after.


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