An NBC reporter succeeded in badgering President Trump on Friday into snapping at him. This was very exciting for a certain group of observers who despise Trump.
The complete exchange has not been presented in most of the viral video clips on social media. The complete exchange starts in this video at the 40:10 mark, with a discussion of the chloroquine therapy being proposed for immediate implementation.
After a brief back and forth about the appropriate level of optimism for this measure, the reporter, Pete Alexander, asks this (starting at 41:27): “Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?”
Trump responded, “No, no. I don’t think so. Look, it may work, and it may not work. And I agree with the doctor [Dr. Fauci], what he said. It may work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling. I’m, you know, a smart guy. I feel good about it. And we’re gonna see. We’re gonna see soon enough. And we have certainly some very big samples of people, if you look at the people, you have a lot of people that are in big trouble. And this is not a drug that, obviously, uh, I think I can speak for a lot of – from a lot of experience, because it’s been out there for over twenty years. So it’s not a drug that you have a huge amount of danger with. It’s not like a brand new drug that’s just been created, that may have an unbelievable, monumental effect like, kill you … uh, we’re gonna know very soon.”
Trump continued: “I can tell you, the FDA’s working very hard to get it out. Right now, in terms of malaria, if you wanted, you can have a prescription. You get a prescription. And by the way – and it’s very effective, it works. Uh … I have a feeling you may – and I’m not being overly optimistic or pessimistic. I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try. I mean, there’s been some interesting things happened, and some very good things. That – let’s see what happens. We have nothing to lose. You know, the expression, ‘What the hell do you have to lose?’ OK …”
Throughout Trump’s comments, Alexander tried to interpose his own points a number of times, talking over the president.
You may have no idea this interlude occurred. At this point we’re at 42:58 on the time ticker. Few who clipped the video did you the courtesy of letting you know what the exchange was actually about, or letting you hear that part of it. (I did find this one by VICE, so kudos to them for including that portion.)
Please decide for yourselves if Alexander’s question at 41:27 was a loaded, baiting, irrelevant one. (As if a president – any president – is going to stroke his chin and respond, “Gee, Pete, maybe I’m giving Americans a false sense of hope. I’ll have to think about that.”)
Your call. Unlike the deceitful “critics,” I’m giving you the entire exchange, and the whole unedited video, to make up your mind with.
It’s clear that Trump was trying to move past that little rhetorical pipe bomb and talk about what matters: the fielding of a therapy that has shown some promise.
At 43:00, Trump points to call on someone else, but at 43:03 Alexander chimes back in with the passage you’ve probably seen in the video clips: “What do you say to Americans who are scared, though, I guess? Nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”
A real president would answer:
We will tap into the immense talents of the American people to find effective treatments and a vaccine and produce all the ventilators and gear we need.
We’ll respect and care for each other even at a distance.
That‘s how we’ll get through this. https://t.co/IQM2IG3XQ5
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 20, 2020
Notice that what we have at this point is a straw man set up by Alexander. There are no facts in evidence demonstrating that Americans are scared because of some sequence in which Trump has given them a false sense of hope. Alexander isn’t posing a good-faith question about fear in the people. He’s sowing a spiritually discouraging narrative with his words: “dead,” “sick,” “scared.” He’s angling persistently to get Trump to respond on his loaded terms.
People are welcome to insist that’s the height of professional journalism. No one is obliged to agree with them.
(For what it’s worth, Brit Hume doesn’t seem to.)
Legitimate question my a**. It was the kind of bullsh*t gotcha question which hack WH reporters have been asking for decades. But instead of going off on the reporter, Trump should have said the whole briefing in all its particulars was a message to people who are scared. https://t.co/Qg0lYC1fxk
— Brit Hume (@brithume) March 20, 2020
Nor does arguing over this bring us any benefits in the fight against the new coronavirus.
Alexander’s question in any case (a) was addressed already in the 43-odd minutes of prior, fact-packed briefing, with their ample evidence that the Trump team is acutely aware of Americans’ concerns; and (b) had zero value to the priority of getting word out to the American people – a priority we pay the president to act on as our chief executive. (As opposed to a non-priority that’s way down on our list, like evasive maneuvering to avoid paintball splatter in exchanges with the media.)
Trump then came back with the viral, irritable response that Alexander is a terrible reporter, and that it’s a nasty question.
And guess what. I’m done with ritual condemnations of Trump when he is eventually goaded through relentless badgering into a reaction like this. I won’t even bother with a pro forma “Well, Trump shouldn’t have responded that way, but …” because that would be weak-minded and morally inconsequent of me. I’d be falling for a distraction.
No more. Not one more time.
Just like Pete Alexander’s questioning tactics, those ritual condemnations of Trump – by pundits weighing in on social media, talk shows, blogs – are easy to sling around and require no focus, no mental discipline, no ability to prioritize, no leadership, no actual righteousness, and no moral courage.
Those condemnations are as cheap as instant ramen in a 36-pack. And they don’t help anyone do anything that matters. They’re just a lot of unimpressive, predictable noise.
We’re fighting a wildly communicable virus in unprecedented circumstances. No one on the planet can say someone else would have done better by now, or that some other regimen applied to the situation of the United States would have unfailingly relieved us of all care and consequences. No one knows any such thing.
The whole world has been affected by mistakes made in some countries; we may eventually determine that some of them were made here. But that is by no means established yet. Meanwhile, we can also say, as things stand at the moment, that some important things have been done right, both in America and abroad.
We are where we are, and fair-minded people know it’s not Trump’s fault, any more than it would be Obama’s fault if he were still president.
This doesn’t matter:
The only thing that matters from Friday’s White House briefing is that Trump and his team are focused on this priority:
… and this problem:
… and they gave us a useful update on it.