As President Trump's Administration has worked to slow the spread of Coronavirus, its efforts have been hampered by the spread of misinformation and outright lies by the President's political and media enemies, who just can't seem to help themselves.
The lie that is most often repeated is that President Trump called the virus itself a "hoax." Pundits and politicians alike--from Lawrence O'Donnell to Stephen Colbert to Hillary Clinton, Congressman Tim Ryan, and Senator Sherrod Brown (among countless others)--have spread it so easily that it's almost impossible to remember what Trump actually said.
On February 28th, at a rally in Charleston, South Carolina, the President actually told his audience that unfair media and Democrat criticism of his Administration's handling of Coronavirus was "their new hoax."
Not the virus itself. The weaponization of it. In fact, the President's full quote indicates that he was taking the threat of Coronavirus very seriously, even going so far as to say that "we are totally prepared" for its spread:
One of my people came up to me and said, “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.” That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax. But we did something that’s been pretty amazing. We have 15 people in this massive country and because of the fact that we went early. We went early, we could have had a lot more than that. We’re doing great. Our country is doing so great. We are so unified. We are so unified. The Republican party has never ever been unified like it is now. There has never been a movement in the history of our country like we have now. Never been a movement. So a statistic that we want to talk about, go ahead. Say USA. It’s okay. USA. So a number that nobody heard of, that I heard of recently and I was shocked to hear it, 35,000 people on average die each year from the flu. Did anyone know that? 35,000, that’s a lot of people. It could go to 100,000, it could be 27,000. They say usually a minimum of 27, goes up to 100,000 people a year die. And so far we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States. Nobody. And it doesn’t mean we won’t and we are totally prepared. It doesn’t mean we won’t, but think of it. You hear 35 and 40,000 people and we’ve lost nobody and you wonder the press is in hysteria mode.
Almost immediately, fact-checking organizations debunked efforts to claim that Trump was calling the virus a hoax or downplaying its potential to spread. On February 29th, Check Your Fact noted that Trump "did not refer to the coronavirus itself as a hoax....In fact, he refers to the respiratory virus as a 'public health threat' and reiterates 'we have to take it very, very seriously. That’s what we’re doing. We are preparing for the worst.'"
The day after that, during an interview with then-presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, who asserted that Trump had called the virus a hoax, CBS News anchor Scott Pelley said "[Trump] said that the Democrats making so much of it is a Democratic hoax, not that the virus was a hoax."
According to FactCheck.org, "Trump said that when he used the word 'hoax,' he was referring to Democrats finding fault with his administration’s response to coronavirus, not the virus itself. Even after Trump explained his remarks, some Democrats…continued to wrongly accuse him."
The Washington Post gave Democrats' claim four Pinnochios, noting that "the full quote shows Trump is criticizing Democratic talking points and the media’s coverage of his administration’s response to coronavirus. He never says that the virus itself is a hoax[.]"
To further this false narrative that President Trump has endangered Americans by downplaying the severity of a virus whose spread caught him unprepared, Democrats have repeatedly asserted that he cut funding for both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“We increased the budget of the CDC," Biden said of the Obama Administration in which he served. "We increased the NIH budget....[Trump] wiped all that out....He cut the funding for the entire effort.”
"There’s nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing," Bloomberg added during a primary debate last month. "And he’s defunded — he’s defunded Centers for Disease Control, CDC, so we don’t have the organization we need. This is a very serious thing."
Only the President did no such thing. Funding for both the CDC and NIH have actually increased during his presidency. According to the Associated Press, "Trump’s budgets have proposed cuts to public health, only to be overruled by Congress, where there’s strong bipartisan support for agencies such as the CDC and NIH. Instead, financing has increased."
A related lie--that President Trump closed the office responsible for pandemic response--circulated just as quickly and perniciously and was just as false. Tim Morrison, who ran the National Security Council's center for counterproliferation and biodefense, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled "No, the White House didn't 'dissolve' its pandemic response office. I was there."
"It has been alleged by multiple officials of the Obama administration, including in The Post, that the president and his then-national security adviser, John Bolton, 'dissolved the office' at the White House in charge of pandemic preparedness," he wrote. "Because I led the very directorate assigned that mission, the counterproliferation and biodefense office, for a year and then handed it off to another official who still holds the post, I know the charge is specious.
"It is true that the Trump administration has seen fit to shrink the NSC staff. But the bloat that occurred under the previous administration clearly needed a correction. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, congressional oversight committees and members of the Obama administration itself all agreed the NSC was too large and too operationally focused (a departure from its traditional role coordinating executive branch activity). As The Post reported in 2015, from the Clinton administration to the Obama administration’s second term, the NSC’s staff “had quadrupled in size, to nearly 400 people.” That is why Trump began streamlining the NSC staff in 2017."
Streamlining, obviously, is not closing and the claim that Trump did close the office was thoroughly debunked...by the man who ran the office.
Amazingly, lies like that have been allowed to spread with little to no pushback. As with his claim about CDC and NIH funding, Biden similarly led the charge in spreading the verifiably false claim that the CDC under the Trump Administration rejected an offer to purchase Coronavirus test kits from the World Health Organization (WHO). This lie was repeated ad nauseum until Politfact discovered that the WHO never actually offered those kits to the CDC in the first place.
"No discussions occurred between WHO and CDC about WHO providing COVID-19 tests to the United States," Politifact quoted WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris as saying. "This is consistent with experience since the United States does not ordinarily rely on WHO for reagents or diagnostic tests because of sufficient domestic capacity."
In other words, the testing lie ignores the manner in which the WHO develops virus testing. As Poltifact explained:
According to interviews with several infectious disease experts, Biden’s statement leaves out key context regarding how different countries decided on which test they’d use to identify the presence of the coronavirus.
WHO lists seven different approaches — including that of China, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, France and Germany — each one targeting different parts of the COVID-19 genetic profile.
Christopher Mores, a global health professor at George Washington University, said that when faced with an outbreak, the WHO will usually adopt the best test that a research group brings forward.
The German one became the approach WHO circulated as its preferred model.
Aid groups, such as the Pan American Health Organization, took that model and built their training and supplies around it. If the model was like the recipe in a cookbook, the supplies were the ingredients in a home meal kit from Blue Apron.
Any country could use whatever recipe it preferred, and even if the United States had picked the WHO’s protocol, it wouldn’t need the WHO to sell it the materials to follow it. Germany released its protocol on Jan. 17, but the U.S. decided to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention develop its own. That protocol was published Jan. 28.
"Our quality analysis runs through the FDA," explained Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's Coronavirus response coordinator. "All of these platforms we have asked people to submit and we’ve asked states to quality control. I mean, anybody could submit their test to us. We don’t buy tests that haven’t been quality controlled and they show us the data. Either show us the data upfront or show us the data after they’ve been running them because quality testing for our American people is paramount to us. It doesn’t help to put out a test where 50% or 47% are false positive.
"Imagine what that would mean to the American people. Imagine their level of concern now and telling people that they’re false positive. We take this same approach to HIV. Imagine telling someone they were positive to HIV and they weren’t. That is our bottom line, the customer, the American people first. Any of these groups can submit their testing kits through our regulatory processes, but without that and without a plan, we are not going to accept tests that have not been studied by us."
"When I became involved in the testing world, I called as senior officials at the WHO as I could find to understand what the situation was," another member of the Coronavirus Response Team added. "As far as I can tell from sources that should know, no one ever offered a test that we refused."
Naturally, this reassurance has mattered little, as the myth of rejected test kits has spread almost as quickly as the virus itself.
So too has the myth that President Trump left states on their own to purchase ventilators for seriously ill patients.
With the ominous headline "Trump to Governors on Ventilators: ‘Try Getting It Yourselves,’" The New York Times dishonestly reported on a phone call the President made to assorted state governors. Even though The Times embedded the actual audio in which Trump said that the federal government would of course back the states, it created the impression that Trump was abandoning them.
Naturally, dozens of other news outlets and reporters repeated the false assertion.
In creating the false impression that Trump had abandoned the states as they desperately tried to find badly needed equipment, these outlets and reporters ignored the President's actual quote.
"We are backing you in terms of equipment and getting what you need," he told the governors. "Also, though, respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment--try getting it yourselves. We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sale, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourselves."
The abandonment narrative, in other words, was a lie...and an apparently deliberate one.
"Yesterday I gave the governors the right to go order directly if they want, if they feel they can do it faster than going through the federal government," President Trump said. "No we've knocked out all of the bureaucracy, it's very direct, but it's still always faster to order directly. That was totally misinterpreted by The New York Times on purpose unfortunately."
Given the repeated, widespread, and consistent misinformation regarding the Trump Administration's Coronavirus response from The Times, other hostile media outlets, and the Democrats who have repeatedly spread rumors, half-truths, and outright lies, it certainly does seem as though it is being done on purpose, but as always, the best remedy for this is the truth.