President Donald Trump was so angry at the media and so sore from ridicule over his suggestion that coronavirus patients be injected with disinfectant, that he abandoned his daily briefing Monday. Well, for a couple of hours anyway.
In a confusing series of announcements, the White House scheduled a press conference with Trump for Monday afternoon. Then scrapped it.
Then put it back on.
In the end, Trump held forth in the Rose Garden. It was by his standards a largely drama-free event, where he pronounced America’s pandemic and economic crisis was poised to bottom out and predicted an “incredible” recovery next year.
“Every day it gets better,” said the Republican president, whose reelection campaign has been upended by the sudden crisis.
This was Trump’s latest attempt at damage control after criticism — even from some in his own party — that the daily briefings were too combative, turning into miniature versions of his now-suspended campaign rallies.
On Thursday, he sparked a public relations disaster when he suggested people could possibly inject disinfectants to fight the virus. A barrage of scorn, alarm and criticism ensued around the world.
The next day, an angry Trump left the briefing without taking questions. Over the weekend, no briefing was held. Then came Monday’s mixed message.
“We like to keep reporters on their toes,” White House strategic communications director Alyssa Farah tweeted, with the light-hearted addition of a winking emoji.
There’s been no such humour coming from the Oval Office — except, possibly, for the sarcastic kind.
Trump has been incensed by unflattering newspaper reports about his work habits and frequent use of the sometimes two-hour briefings to praise himself while battering rivals.
After his disinfectant comment, he claimed it was sarcasm aimed at journalists during the press conference, although he’d clearly been talking directly to his medical advisors, not the journalists, and there was no sarcasm apparent in his voice.
Over the weekend, he also used the sarcasm defence to explain a bizarre tweet in which he told journalists whom he believes treat him unfairly to give back their “Noble Prizes.”
When the Twitterverse lit up with questions about why Trump was misspelling the Nobel Prize, which is not even awarded to journalists, and whether he really had meant to say the Pulitzer Prize, the president complained: “Does sarcasm ever work?”
Early Monday, Trump kept up the anti-media tweetstorm, writing: “FAKE NEWS, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”
“There has never been, in the history of our country, a more vicious or hostile Lamestream Media than there is right now, even in the midst of a National Emergency, the Invisible Enemy!” Trump also wrote.
New look briefings?
Yet another tweet on Saturday fed rumours that Trump was going to shut down the briefings altogether.
“What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately,” Trump wrote, adding his frequent refrain that he got “record ratings.”
However, the president faces huge pressure to demonstrate his leadership and the briefings give him huge visibility.
Trump’s new press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, indicated that a new strategy would be rolled out, emphasizing Trump’s business background and his focus on reopening the US economy.
“We’re looking at different ways to showcase this president leading,” she told Fox News.
McEnany suggested a shift “to showcase (to) the American people the great entrepreneurship of this president.”
“I’m not going to get ahead of what the briefings will look like this week. They may have a different look,” she said.