As it becomes clear that President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes could hit the rocks over the administration’s unfulfilled promises on mass testing for coronavirus, Fox News hosts are doubling down on their counter-strategy: effusive praise for how much Trump accomplished even in testing — despite his record of false claims, the botched rollout of early test kits, and the fact that key components of the testing progress that has been made were either made harder by the administration’s missteps or even actively opposed along the way.
In early March, Trump had declared confidently: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test” — a claim that was blatantly false.
That same day, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar had also promised “as many as 4 million tests” to be delivered to laboratories in a week’s time — a number that was soon undone both by defective tests and a refusal to use test kits sponsored by the World Health Organization, which Trump has sought to make a scapegoat in the crisis. (It was only a few days ago that the U.S. reached the 4-million mark in testing.)
On April 1, Vice President Mike Pence said that test kits were being delivered around the country, but blamed “an antiquated system where a state laboratory or CDC only had the capacity to process 40 to 60 tests a day.”
And on April 2, Trump said at one of his news briefing that the United States was testing “more than any other country in the world, both in terms of the raw number and also on a per capita basis, the most.” This was also a false statement, as the United States continued to lag behind countries such as Germany and South Korea in tests per capita.
As Business Insider explains, it is only recently that the United States caught up to become a top-tier country in testing per capita — passing South Korea, but still lagging behind Italy. (Though South Korea achieved its needed mass testing much earlier, enabling the country to reopen in a way that the United States can’t do yet.)
There is a new proposed round of federal aid to help states conduct testing — part of the recently announced compromise deal to replenish the fund for aid to small businesses. But that was a win for Democratic negotiators after the Trump administration had continued to oppose a national testing strategy, insisting it was the responsibility of individual states.
This came after Maryland's Republican governor Larry Hogan had to defend himself from criticism from Trump after buying a half a million test kits from a South Korean company. Republican and Democratic governors have been vocal about a lack of testing materials, like swabs and reagents.
But Fox News hosts are eager to ignore the Trump administration’s testing failures and recast them as successes. On the April 21 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity declared that Trump deserved credit for “the greatest medical mobilization this country has ever seen” and said that the United States is “also leading the world on testing, no country even close. It has tested more of its citizens than any other country — many countries combined as a matter of fact.”
Of course, it is easy for Hannity to obfuscate the point by saying that the United States has conducted more tests than “many countries combined” because the U.S. has the third largest total population in the world. And while this could perhaps be the “greatest medical mobilization this country has ever seen,” it took quite a while to get to this point, and there’s still a way to go.
Just this past Sunday night, Trump passed the blame for his adminstration’s testing failures on to state governors. “Testing is a local thing,” he said. “It's very important. It's great. But it's a local thing.” He also falsely claimed that the governors “don’t want to use all of the capacity that we’ve created.”
On the April 21 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham dismissed complaints from local officials and responded that no amount of testing will ever be enough for some people before the economy can reopen. She also continued the refrain that the U.S. is doing more tests “than any country on Earth.”
Instead, she said, Trump should “control the narrative on testing and tracking” and be clear that “the reasons that we shut down” to fight the coronavirus outbreak “no longer apply.”
As noted above, the new funding to states for testing and tracking was actually a Democratic priority — and only a concession by Republicans after Trump had opposed it earlier. But that’s not exactly the “narrative” that Ingraham wants Trump to control.