News media are falling yet again into a predictable trap, commending President Donald Trump for a supposed “new tone” at his July 21 press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, and saying he seems to be taking the crisis more seriously.
This is the same press briefing at which Trump said of the case of accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, “I wish her well.”
Media Matters has previously cautioned the media against accepting a supposed “new tone” from Trump on the coronavirus — all the way back in early April, when an initial wave of such praise occurred after Trump warned of a “very, very painful” period ahead at his March 31 briefing. (At the time, this blunt admission came after Trump had previously insisted for months that the outbreak was “totally under control.”)
Indeed, the predictions of a Trump pivot have been going on as long as his presidency, and they keep on coming up no matter how often these prognostications fall through.
Even before the latest press conference on July 21 was actually held, ABC News tweeted this message Tuesday afternoon:
In fact, ABC's Rick Klein has repeatedly praised Trump over the years for changing his “tone.”
Here's how some other media outlets reacted to Trump's appearance:
- CBS News: Breaking down President Trump's shift in tone about the coronavirus
- Bloomberg: Trump Reboots Virus Briefings With Warning and a Shift in Tone
- Yahoo News: Trump addresses his change of tone in coronavirus response
- The Washington Post: Pandemic likely to ‘get worse before it gets better,’ Trump says in somber return to coronavirus briefing
Even if the articles give more context, headlines such as these are problematic because many people don’t click past them, and the news media’s capacity for handling Trump’s lies and obfuscations in headlines has clearly been a running problem.
Comedy Central’s The Daily Show posted this clips reel showing TV news shows lauding Trump’s supposed “new tone,” from such diverse sources as CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, and the local ABC News broadcast in New York City.
The Columbia Journalism Review explained the problem in more analytical terms (emphasis original):
One interpretation of the tone obsession is that it reflects a broader, stubbornly amoral approach to political coverage—a warped, superficial fixation on strategy, polling, and style. A kinder interpretation is that it reflects wishful thinking—a persistent desire to believe that maybe, this time, the president really does grasp the severity of the situation, and might act on it. There’s probably some truth in both. Either way, we urgently need a change of course. Actions speak louder than words. They are certainly a much better way of judging a president.