Major Media Outlets Chose the Wrong COVID Response Scandal to Portray the Callousness of the Trump Administration
By Maddy Sperling, November 2, 2020
To those who have paid close attention to the Trump administration’s management of the Coronavirus, there’s little question that the president and his appointees had a direct hand in the mishandling of the virus, or that they demonstrated apathy towards the rising death count in the name of political expediency. In spite of the many stories about this administration’s ineptitude in the face of a global pandemic, there’s still a consistent pool of Americans that approve of the federal government’s response even outside of Trump’s base.
One of the biggest and most propagated stories from September was Bob Woodward’s reveal about his interview with Trump from April wherein the president privately divulged his knowledge about the severity of COVID-19 while publicly comparing the virus to the flu. The highlight of the story, however, was the president’s admittance in the interview that he was intentionally downplaying the virus to avoid causing panic. The story broke just 55 days before the election and within 24 hours, it was everywhere.
Despite the mass exposure of this story that showed the president intentionally lied about the deadliness of the virus to the American people, disapproval of Trump’s handling of the virus hardly moved an inch–– according to both FiveThirtyEight and RCP Poll Averages. Historically speaking, American indifference to government dishonesty is nothing new.
Most people believe the government isn’t honest with them. Public trust in the government has been on a downward trajectory since 2001. On top of that, consider how most Americans, liberals and conservatives alike responded to the Edward Snowden story. In 2013, Snowden, a CIA whistleblower leaked classified information from the NSA that exposed the international intelligence community’s global surveillance. The Washington Post, The Guardian, and countless other major news outlets reported on their front pages that the US and UK governments were had unchecked access to our calls, texts, e-mails, and web history. While the accusations of mass government surveillance troubled a relative majority of US citizens, there was and still is an invariable population of those who believe this leak harmed public interest and that Snowden was a traitor and a criminal.
Back to September 2020. By this time in one of the most critical elections in modern history, there had already been a number of leaks and stories about the callousness and ineptitude of the Trump administration in the face of this pandemic. Moreover, broadcast news channels and popular newspapers are wary not to repeat their mistakes in covering Donald Trump. With a new scandal every week, major news outlets have the power to pinpoint and boost one of two stories that clear, concise, and emblematic of the Trump administration’s gross negligence that’s lead to thousands upon thousands of avoidable deaths, as well as a recession.
The question that should have been asked was ‘how would this story about the president lying to Americans in the interest of avoiding widespread panic resonate with the 48% of Americans who approved of government surveillance of personal data in the name of counter-terrorism’? With so many Americans willing to relinquish their privacy for the sake of their alleged safety, how many would accept being lied to by their government for the sake of the economy?
In my opinion, the pandemic response story that should have defined the Trump administration’s re-election year was the leak from the office of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser with one of the influential roles in the White House. In July, Vanity Fair reported on how a comprehensive testing plan was completely scratched that would have made a consequential difference in containing the virus back in March. Many health experts have cited the lack of mass testing as the primary factor in the virus’ rapid spread in the US. What’s worse is that it was likely abandoned because members of Kushner’s Coronavirus task force believed the virus would hit blue states the hardest and that allowing cases and deaths to rise would be politically advantageous for the GOP. A public-health expert in regular contact with the task force told Vanity Fair that “the political folks” thought a nationwide response was a bad political move. Sadly, this story was overshadowed by the many successive scandals, but it demonstrates a clear and discernible disregard for human life and cruelty by this administration.
You could argue that the fact that Donald Trump himself isn’t directly involved weakens the story, but there have been countless politicians taken down by choices made within their administration. Look at Watergate. The point is Trump appointed his son-in-law who acted solely in the interest of maintaining their family’s political power. More importantly, it accurately and concisely encapsulates the selfish, cold-blooded approach taken by this administration in the face of the most deadly pandemic in modern history.