The media have lost the plot

Last week, Donald Trump gave a couple of press conferences that were the apotheosis of Trumpian incoherence and inanity — he rambled on in his usual stream-of-consciousness style, exposing the fact that he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and announced that the person who was in charge of the COVID-19 response was Mike Pence, who is the opposite of a responsible, informed choice (put him in charge of the Prayer Team, OK?), and later took direct action by announcing a crackdown on Mexican border crossings (our cases of COVID-19 are not coming from Mexico). Yet at the same time, our media blandly treats this as routine.

Wednesday’s briefing was arguably the most abnormal moment yet in a profoundly abnormal presidency.

But top news organizations, rather than accurately representing Trump’s alarming behavior, made it sound like nothing untoward happened at all.

They made it sound like some real news was made: That Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the government’s response to the coronavirus; that the president urged calm.

But even the Pence “news” appears to be a sham, and a clusterfuck: In addition to being basically a fuck-you to the medical community — given Pence’s proud defiance of scientific truths — it was apparently a last-minute decision based on political optics that blindsided Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who at the same time insisted that he was still in charge.

This one really wasn’t hard. It was obvious to anyone listening to Trump’s rambling, often incoherent, self-centered, stream-of-consciousness ad-libbing – much of it straight out of his political rallies — that:

  • Trump had no real understanding of what he was talking about.
  • He had no sense of what was required of him as president.
  • He sees this as being all about him.
  • There are only so many things that can come out of his head.
  • No, the New York Times is not pointing out the idiocy of this president.

    But at the New York Times, Michael D. Shear, Noah Weiland and Katie Rogers engaged in something even worse than stenography: The cherrypicking of quotes that weren’t incoherent, that in no way whatsoever indicated the true nature of the briefing. They led off:

    President Trump named Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday to coordinate the government’s response to the coronavirus, even as he repeatedly played down the danger to the United States of a widespread domestic outbreak.

    Nothing in that story told readers what they most needed to know.

    Even in a sidebar on Trump’s credibility, Annie Karni, Michael Crowley and Maggie Haberman simply called Trump’s briefing “casual”. Then they punted:

    Mr. Trump could face a moment of reckoning. Maintaining a calm and orderly response during an epidemic, in which countless lives could be at stake, requires that the president be a reliable public messenger.

    There was also a cutesy sidebar by Katie Rogers about Trump’s self-declared germophobia.


    It’s maddening. The more serious the media outlet, the more likely they are to pretend the drooling clown at the top of the country as a serious thinker, because the Newspaper of Record would find it beneath their dignity to expose a madman.

    Although I will say that I watched a little bit of CNN on Friday night, and they were discussing the reasons we should be concerned about a COVID-19 pandemic, and they did come right out and say that one of the exacerbating factors for this disease is “incompetent leadership”. That ought to be the lead story in every newspaper every day. “THE PRESIDENT IS INCOMPETENT”, 72 point bold font, all the time until he’s run out of town on a rail.

    P.S. The president also put Katie Miller, Stephen Miller’s new wife, in charge of all coronavirus communications. He’s not only incompetent, he’s corrupt and handing out jobs to cronies. No one will care.


    1. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

      Actually, it’s been fascinating to watch the process of normalization of variance in the media. The Times editorial page was on board from the beginning–pretending that somehow Mango Mussolini was a normal President, rather than a mentally unstable imbecile with access to no ability to remember the nuclear codes. The news pages held out, and some few reporters are still holding out and reporting actual news. But slowly, “balance” has creeped in–balancing lies with truth until the incompatibility forces the truth out altogether. And this is the Times–a paper that has known precisely how nutty and reprehensible this man can be for over 40 years!

      You see it now even in the reporting from NPR and the Post. And as “normal” moves further and further away from reality, the orange shitgibbon becomes ever more dangerously unhinged, and the media simply and dutifully lap up the Kool-Aid. There are very few people out there to report the obvious: THIS AIN’T NORMA!!!

    2. raven says

      We are seeing massive US incompetence in dealing with the new virus Covid-19 right in front of us.

      First US COVID-19 death reported; feds expand travel ban … › news-perspective › 2020/02 › first-us-covid-1…
      15 hours ago – Washington state reports the nation’s first COVID-19 death, and 2 nursing home cases. … additional cases in a Seattle area nursing home, prompting the state’s governor … Washington officials also probe nursing home cluster.

      There are now in just the last two days, many cases of US community transmission going on.
      .1. Two cases in California, one of which is very sick.
      .2. A case in Oregon in someone who works in an elementary school.
      .3. Several cases in Washington state.
      One was diagnosed a day before he died.
      One is a cluster in a long term care home, that is probably in the dozens.
      Given this patient population, many of those will die.
      (This is common. Without care, one patient can infect a whole hospital. It’s happened in South Korea, Italy, and…Seattle.)

      OK, so why did all these cases just suddenly appear.
      They didn’t.
      The USA is so far behind on their testing that they only appeared when we started expanding the testing.
      It’s an artifact, of not…testing enough.
      Up until a day ago, a country with 328 million people had tested a whole ca. 500 people!!!

      Massive incompetence = Covid-19 is not contained in the USA as of now.
      Massive incompetence = People will die.

    3. Akira MacKenzie says

      It’s maddening. The more serious the media outlet, the more likely they are to pretend the drooling clown at the top of the country as a serious thinker, because the Newspaper of Record would find it beneath their dignity to expose a madman.

      For the last five years, I have had this image of most professional journalists spending most of their time curled-up under their desks in a fetal position, rocking back-and-forth, and catatonically mumbling to themselves “Can’t appear ‘biased’…Can’t appear ‘biased…Can’t appear ‘biased’…Can’t appear ‘biased…’ punctuated with an occasional scream of “NO MR. EDITOR! PLEASE DON’T HURT ME!!!”

      Twenty years ago, after many a false start and change in major, I finally finished my seven-year-long quest for a four-year degree by just scraping by with a BA in Print Journalism. (I liked to write. I thought that a Mass Communications degree would get me a job where I could get paid to write. I was so, so wrong…) All of my professors had been working press at some point during in the 70s and 80s. Given how much they glorified the days of Woodward & Bernstein, The Pentagon Papers, and other heroic deeds of establishment-shacking investigative journalism, I want to think that they would have been disgusted by what the profession has become.

      I mean, who are teaching today’s journalism students? What are they teaching them?

    4. kome says

      Mainstream outlets care more about maintaining good relations to people they want access to rather than reporting the truth, because guess what sells more papers / gets higher ratings between “interview with famous person” or “the truth”?

      As long as it continues to be successful – and as a business strategy, it is very successful – they will continue to do it. We need to make it fail by moving our support to outlets that have fewer qualms about telling the truth, and doing what we can to promote those outlets.

    5. raven says

      You can make some simple minded estimates of how many undetected cases are out there.
      20% of cases are severe enough to be hospitalized.
      For every hospitalized case, 4 are outside.
      Right now we have 24 infected people somewhere, at least.

      With a mortality rate of 2%, multiple deaths by 50.
      We could have 50 unknown infected people somewhere.

      These numbers will change in the coming days.
      They could go down.
      They are more likely to go up.

    6. raven says

      The Covid 19 virus is containable.
      At least 10 countries have contained it so far, meaning they had cases but they went down, not up.

      Three countries have dropped the ball big time so far.
      China at first, Iran is the worst, and the USA.

      The virus is still containable.
      We will now see if the USA can contain it.

      So far, there has been more incompetence in just about everything we’ve done.
      The people who were dealing with high risk repatriated US citizens from Asia didn’t use personal infection control gear.
      We are short of personal protection gear right now.
      Which doesn’t matter that much because you need to be trained in how to use it.
      A whole lot of people who need it don’t have that training.

      The real fight against the virus and its spread is going to be at the local and hospital level.
      Some areas are well prepared for this.
      Many areas, especially poor, and/or rural areas are not.

    7. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

      I would argue that perhaps the good ol’ US of A may have an under-reporting rate well over 80%, since our healthcare system makes a specialty of bankrupting people who get hospitalized. Moreover, there are a lot of folks with no vacation or sick days to take, who could lose their job if they don’t report to work. The US has laid an impressive infrastructure to support the spread of the virus.

    8. says

      At what point do people stop saying that the Media is incompetent or don’t know what they are doing and just admit that the Media are doing precisely what they want to do how they want to do it? They are not making mistakes. They might have been at some point in the distant past, but they haven’t been for some time.

    9. says

      The media is normalizing moronic behavior in politicians? Do tell. Say, does anybody have a list of who voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003? I’ve lost mine. While you’re at it, can anybody give me a list of who voted to extend (and then make permanent) the PATRIOT Act?

    10. robro says

      “The President Is Incompetent”

      Like it. Or “Trump’s Incompetency Will Kill You.”

      raven @ #2 — I’m told that one of the California cases is being treated at a Kaiser hospital near me. It’s closer than we think.

    11. petesh says

      He’s not only incompetent, he’s corrupt and handing out jobs to cronies.


      No one will care.

      I disagree. Maybe I’m a cockeyed optimist but the cumulative evidence of his corrupt incompetence is the only thing that will bring him down, and it’s increasingly obvious. My hope is that the mushy middle, especially the ones who didn’t actually vote for Trump but gave him a very, very brief slightly positive poll rating (47.8 vs 42.5 at inauguration, per 538), see through this latest crap. The most glorious irony is that the stock market on which he has relied so much collapsed after he tried to reassure it. I don’t expect the 27% or even 40% of idiots to desert Trump, but I think he’s toast and good riddance. (Sadly, I could be wrong.)

    12. leerudolph says

      Here’s a comment I made elseblog earlier today; mostly a quote from a newspaper story (WaPo, maybe), and a final paragraph that I am entirely serious about.

      Chinese man sentenced to death for stabbing two workers at virus checkpoint

      BEIJING— A man in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan was sentenced to death for murder on Sunday after killing two people working at a coronavirus checkpoint last month.

      The man, a 23-year-old called Ma Jianguo who had only a primary school education, had been driving between two villages in Honghe County, Yunnan, on Feb. 6 with another man called Ma Kelong.

      When they arrived at a checkpoint where officials were taking temperatures, an angry Ma Kelong tried to push the roadblock aside, against the orders of the workers, according to a statement by Yunnan government’s publicity department.

      When he wouldn’t stop, one of the workers at the checkpoint, Zhang Guizhou, took out his phone to document the actions.

      Ma Jianguo objected to his friend being filmed and pulled out a fruit knife, stabbing and killing Zhang first, and then another worker, Li Guomin, when he tried to intervene.

      Both Zhang and Li were local party cadres.

      Change the locations and proper names, substitute firearm for fruit knife, and I can entirely see this being replayed in the US well before the elections.
      I should have added the first time (and will do so now) that the US substitution for “local party cadres” would be “Trump fan”.

    13. says

      This getting scarier by the day to me. I do care but I do not know what to do about it. His followers act like he is normal and not evil. He is evil.

    14. jrkrideau says

      @ 13 leerudolph
      US substitution for “local party cadres” would be “Trump fan”
      WHAT? Local party cadres means they were members of the Chinese Communist Party, probably drafted in to help the security forces. BTW they would be 2 of approximately 80 million members of the CCP.

    15. JoeBuddha says

      I may be wrong, but didn’t he gut the very group in the CDC that was dedicated to handling pandemics?

    16. unclefrogy says

      I do not know if “he” is evil or not I do suspect that “he” lives in a different world than I do and may not see other people as people that are the same as he is. I may have to re-examine my idea of evil. when I look at the “Media” and their response to “him” I am not sure what to think. I want to believe that they are doing good but well are they really? Are they afraid if they are too accurate they will be seen as hostile and wont get access? If so then “he” is right they are corrupt and are only in it for the money. Are they afraid that if they antagonize him with the truth he will be even more erratic and lash out..
      I may have to re-examine what I think evil is.
      mean while I will try not to let my fears, whose number grows daily, get the better of me.
      uncle frogy

    17. nomdeplume says

      As others have said this behaviour goes way back, back I guess to the point where the media was horrified at what Woodward and Bernstein had done to that good Republican Richard Nixon.

      In terms of Trump it began with the Republican primaries. I mean, granted they were a horrible bunch of people, but Trump still stood out. The media helped him get elected, and then, perhaps a little nervous about what they had given the world, began talking about the “pivot”. The nasty clown was just acting, it seemed, to win the election, and now he would “become presidential”. Signs that this was happening were eagerly sought. When it was quite clear that there would be no pivot, that Trump was indeed as bad as many had known, the media proceeded to do the pivot for him. They have turned his nonsense into something that sounds rational. And the obvious nastiness, fascism, corruption and ignorance, where reported at all, is always modified with weasel words like “seems” or “apparently”. The fourth estate has become what they called in World War 2 the “fifth estate”.

    18. raven says

      It’s closer than we think.

      It sure is.
      .1. One of my friends is now listed as “possibly exposed” and is in “self isolation 14 day quarantine”.
      .2 I was at the store this morning.
      I decided to do my panic buying early.
      The shelves weren’t empty but supplies with a long shelf life were really close.
      While I was staring at the bags of rice, a young woman in a hurry grabbed 25 pounds of rice.

    19. psanity says

      You must be in opposite day, or not paying adequate attention to Chinese names. The workers who were killed for manning a checkpoint to prevent disease spread were “party cadres”. The violent idiots who wanted their own way, damn the consequences, were the traveling workers, perhaps Trumpie-like.

    20. leerudolph says

      I am an idiot for mixing up the killers and the killed (at least I didn’t make that mistake the first time I posted that story). I apologize to all.

      I stand by what my original point was: I think it is likely that at some point here in the US some armed people who don’t want to obey orders from public health workers will react by attacking them, and that those armed people will almost certainly be Trump supporters.

    21. Dunc says

      Ronald Couch, @ #8: Exactly. I don’t understand why so many people fail to see it. It’s not exactly subtle.

    22. raven says


      Mike Famulare, a principal research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Wa., conducted the analysis and said his “best guess, with broad uncertainty” is that between 150 and 1,500 people may have the virus, with the likely range being between 300 and 500 people, according to the Times. He said the patients have either been “infected and recovered” or are “infected now.”

      A sequence analysis and modeling of the virus, implies that Washington state has hundreds of cases at the least.
      There are other unlinked to travel clusters in the USA now.

      It’s likely that there are somewhere around 1,000 unknown but infected people wandering around the USA.

      What we know from past epidemics is that the quicker you stomp them out, the easier it is.
      The window on containing this virus in the USA is closing fast.

    23. dianne says

      I saw the Trump press conference on Covid. I was impressed by two things: 1. I know obviously more about it than he did. 2. He sounded a lot like Reagan. Late Reagan. I remember the big deal the admin made about Trump’s passing a mini mental status exam in 2017 or so. I don’t recall them announcing his results since then. I wonder if he can still draw a clock and remember 3 words for 5 minutes.

    24. chrislawson says


      As someone who has administered MMSE tests to many people, I can assure readers that a “pass” is not evidence of competence. The test is designed as a screen for dementia. It won’t identify early dementia. It is also very operator-dependent — a test giver who wants the subject to pass can make it a lot easier for them. Having his team brag about how he passed an MMSE is like having Florence Foster Jenkins’ husband report that her singing is audible.

    25. anchor says

      Thank you for removing the hideous picture of those eyesores. It is definite relief.

    26. dianne says

      @Chrislawson: I’d say “that was what I was implying” except I think I did less implying and more stating outright. IIRC, Don Jr (maybe it was Eric: they’re pretty interchangable) described Trump passing the MMSE as “more winning!” His doctor ostensibly issued a statement saying (paraphrasing) that he was the healthiest president ever and all sorts of other Trumpesque things. I certainly hope the examining doctor did not write the press release. It would all have been rather pathetic if Trump or whoever is actually running his administration weren’t doing so much damage to the world.

      I agree with your point about the MMSE having an operator dependent component, but I’m not sure, based on his performance at the press conference, that he could pass it even with help. He seemed genuinely confused about what was going on. I was actually relieved to hear that Pence was going to be in charge because that meant that Trump wouldn’t be. Pence presumably has enough connection to reality to maintain a bit of self preservation.

    27. raven says

      CNN tonight:
      Pence said an emergency effort meant that 15,000 new coronavirus tests kits were sent out over the weekend.

      That is good. And the result has been…

      There are now new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus or presumptive cases in California, Massachusetts, Washington state, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, Rhode Island, New York and Florida.

      These cases are all part of community spread that has obviously been happening for weeks.
      The testing program is many weeks behind schedule.

      The situation is deteriorating by the hour in the USA.

    28. KG says

      The window on containing this virus in the USA is closing fast. – raven@23

      I’d say it closed weeks ago, both in the USA and globally. I remain rather sceptical of Chinese claims to have contained SARS-CoV-2 there (my guess is that there are clusters outside Hubei that have either passed undetected, or which local officials are concealing – in any authoritarian system, not telling the bosses what they don’t want to hear is practically a reflex). But even if the claims there are justified, does anyone believe the governments of Iran, Italy, Iraq, Syria, Brazil, Indonesia, or the USA (to name but a few) are capable of deciding on and implementing the severe restrictions on travel and the mass screening programmes necessary to halt the spread of infection? I would still say – ban all non-essential air travel now to slow the virus’ spread and so give more time to prepare medical staff and systems, and measures to increase resilience when large numbers fall ill and schools and workplaces close – but I’m sure this won’t be done.

    29. KG says

      One caveat to #29: it’s possible the virus will do less well as the weather warms – which again, suggests a ban on all but essential air travel would be worthwhile even now.