Five major American newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times -- have largely ignored President Donald Trump’s firing of “the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command” in 2018 in their print coverage of his administration’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak over the past two weeks.
Following the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Obama administration “set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group” at the Department of Homeland Security and another at the National Security Council to coordinate policies among key federal agencies and respond to potential global pandemics. But as Foreign Policy explained, Trump got rid of them:
In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency. The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer’s DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team. Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced.
NBC News reported that pandemic experts and past officials who oversaw responses to disease outbreaks say Trump’s staff cuts are “likely to hamper the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus.” But Americans who read print copies of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times would not have been sufficiently informed about this aspect of how Trump has weakened America’s defenses to coronavirus.
Media Matters reviewed print articles from those newspapers over the past two weeks for mentions of the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Of 38 articles, only eight -- or 21% -- mentioned the lack of a pandemic response team in the NSC/DHS: Four in The New York Times, two in The Washington Post, and two in the Los Angeles Times. The Wall Street Journal and USA Today made no mention of Trump’s firings.
And some of those mentions about the missing pandemic response teams failed to specifically explain that the Trump administration had fired them.
- A February 22 New York Times article mentioned only that Democrats were “noting that a global health security expert position on the National Security Council has been left vacant for almost two years.”
- A February 24 New York Times article similarly ignored Trump’s role in firing the team, stating: “A White House Ebola response coordinator named in 2014 is no longer there, nor is a dedicated position at the National Security Council for global health security.”
- A February 24 Washington Post article quoted presidential historian Russell Riley, who noted that Trump had “hollowed out the senior leadership of so many departments of the government -- especially in the scientific community,” adding that “he is now in desperate need of professional guidance among people he has abused for three years.”
- A February 26 Los Angeles Times article reported that “a task force at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies” had “recommended the reinstatement of a National Security Council official to coordinate pandemic response,” but failed to mention the position had been eliminated by Trump.
Media Matters searched news articles in the Nexis and Factiva databases in the print editions of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times that included both of the terms “coronavirus” and “Trump” from February 13 through February 27, 2020. We included any articles about coronavirus that also mentioned any aspect of the Trump administration’s response. We excluded editorials, op-eds, columns, and letters to the editor.