At a White House briefing meant to provide updates on the U.S. efforts to combat the coronavirus, President Donald Trump played a campaign-style video clip portraying his initial response to the disease as a bold success – further blurring the line between the government and his presidential reelection bid.
“We have a few clips that we’re just going to put up,” Trump told reporters in the White House briefing room Monday evening before starting the reel. “I think you’ll find them interesting.”
The president said he would answer questions after the video ended. “But most importantly, we’re going to get back onto the reason we’re here, which is the success we’re having,” Trump added.
What followed was a nearly four-minute video, made up of news clips promoting or defending the president’s actions and complete with dramatic music, graphics and visual effects. It offered perhaps the clearest example yet of Trump using the daily briefings to tout what he describes as his successes, rather than merely inform the public about the deadly pandemic. He said White House staff produced the video.
Critics have accused the president of abusing the briefings, which are carried on most major TV networks, by treating them as de facto campaign events. They say he has tried to replace the boisterous rallies he has been forced to cancel during the public health crisis.
The U.S. has the highest number of reported Covid-19 cases of any country in the world, as well as the highest number of deaths from the disease. More than 577,300 people in the U.S. are infected and at least 23,232 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“Everything we did was right,” Trump said in the briefing room after the video ended.
Text at the beginning of the clip asserted that “THE MEDIA MINIMIZED THE RISK FROM THE START.” It gave way to a handful of soundbites describing the risk of the virus to the U.S. as low.
After that, another text graphic said that “PRESIDENT TRUMP TOOK DECISIVE ACTION.” It was followed by a slickly produced timeline of steps he approved in response to the spread of the virus.
Trump has previously bristled at critics who argue that he and his administration downplayed the threat of the coronavirus for too long. Some point to Trump’s false assertion in late February that the number of people in the U.S. with Covid-19 – just a handful at the time – “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
Trump later said that he made that remark because he is a “cheerleader” for the country.
Critics have also pointed to the administration’s slow adoption of widespread testing, a critical component of slowing the disease’s spread.
The video continues, highlighting “partisans” who “sniped and criticized” his efforts, including the White House’s move in late January to impose travel restrictions and quarantine rules aimed at preventing the disease from spreading from China, where the outbreak first appeared.
While an audio clip plays of New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman calling the travel restrictions “probably effective,” black-and-white photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden flash on screen.
The video also includes clips of governors, including Democrats Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California, thanking Trump for the federal help he approved in their states.
The president has peppered the briefings with grievances against his critics and attacks on media outlets – the defining characteristics of his free-wheeling campaign rallies. One of the most stark examples came in March, when he lashed out at NBC News reporter Peter Alexander. He asked Trump if he had anything to say to Americans who are “scared” because of the pandemic.
“I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say,” Trump retorted, calling it a “nasty question.” (Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News and CNBC).
He tore into members of the media repeatedly on Monday. He called one reporter “disgraceful” and “a fake” when he took issue with her line of questioning.
Pressed about his false claim that he has “total” power to end state lockdowns, he snapped at another reporter, “Enough!”
After the video ended, Trump said it “was done by a group in the office, and we just put some clips together.”
Asked why he felt the need to have the video made, Trump said, “Because we’re getting fake news and I like to have it corrected.”