The political talk shows this Sunday stepped up their coverage of the Trump administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States compared to the previous two weekends. But the hosts failed to inform their viewers about key context on the history of failure that precedes the administration's response. None of the hosts mentioned that, in 2018, President Donald Trump fired pandemic response teams at the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security. They also failed to bring up Vice President Mike Pence’s disastrous handling of an HIV epidemic when he was governor during interviews with him about his role coordinating the administration’s response to the outbreak.
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 (DHS) and another at the National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate policies among key federal agencies and respond to potential global pandemics. But as Foreign Policy explained on January 31, Trump got rid of both:
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. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10.
CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, ABC’s This Week, and CBS’ Face the Nation aired 12 segments altogether on March 1 covering the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak -- up from zero on February 23, and just one from Face the Nation on February 16. But none of the hosts mentioned Trump’s firing of these pandemic response teams. The only time the response teams came up was when former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, was asked on State of the Union and This Week how he would handle the outbreak differently from Trump.
Other context missing from the Sunday shows’ coronavirus coverage is Pence’s history of dealing with viral outbreaks as governor of Indiana. When Trump first named Pence to oversee the federal government’s response to the coronavirus spread in the U.S., some news outlets neglected to mention Pence’s failure to effectively handle an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was governor; his policies actually made the outbreak worse for a time. CNN’s Jake Tapper and NBC’s Chuck Todd also ignored this part of Pence’s record when they interviewed him on their respective shows on Sunday. Even after Pence referred to his tenure as a governor, Todd failed to bring up this relevant context.
And it’s not just the major Sunday political talk show hosts that have failed to cover Trump’s decision to fire the NSC and DHS pandemic response leadership in 2018. From mid- to late February, the morning talk shows and evening news shows of ABC, CBS, and NBC also ignored the 2018 firings and their impact on the U.S. response to this disease. Over the same time period, five major American newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times -- also largely ignored Trump’s firings in their coverage of the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the Union, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday for segments that included both of the terms “coronavirus” and “Trump” between February 16 and March 1, which included the Sunday shows during and just after the span covered by previous studies on this topic.
We looked for segments where coronavirus was the stated topic of discussion or where two or more speakers discussed coronavirus with one another. We did not include teasers of upcoming segments or passing mentions of coronavirus during segments about other topics.