In the four days since President Donald Trump left the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his medical team has not done a single press event where reporters could ask questions about the president’s health. They have provided only a daily letter with scant and sometimes contradictory information, leaving the entire country without any meaningful information about the health of a 74-year-old president who has contracted the novel coronavirus.
Trump has instead undertaken a manic spree of tweets, bizarre prerecorded videos, and appearances on friendly conservative media outlets to proclaim he’s back to full health. This public relations campaign will culminate Friday night in a televised health exam on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s prime-time show, performed by pro-Trump stalwart Marc Siegel, an internist and frequent Fox News contributor.
The likely absurdity of this performance — not only is Siegel unreliable, but he will conduct the “exam” remotely and it will be pre-recorded — underscores that not only are Americans not getting real updates about the president’s health 25 days before the election, but there is a high chance they are being actively misled.
Siegel is Fox News’ go-to source for medical analysis and has appeared on the channel over 300 times since the start of the year. Throughout the pandemic, he has repeatedly promoted unsubstantiated claims that tend to fit with the White House narrative on coronavirus. Early on, he downplayed the threat from COVID-19, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity in early March that “worst-case scenario, it could be the flu,” and promoting the unproven anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for the virus.
Siegel has also continually backed Trump’s response to the virus, as well as praised U.S. states that lifted coronavirus lockdowns despite surging cases. He has pushed to reopen schools and defended Trump for holding campaign rallies and events. After Trump contracted the virus, Siegel told Carlson that he saw no problem with Trump working from the Oval Office despite being potentially contagious.
Trump’s medical stunt on Fox News is a natural extension of the symbiotic relationship he has with the channel. The president has repeatedly turned to Fox News for guidance on the coronavirus, holding private meetings with hosts Carlson and Laura Ingraham about the pandemic and regurgitating talking points he sees on the network.
Trump also hired Scott Atlas, a doctor who frequently appears on Fox News, to be a member of the White House coronavirus task force ― an appointment that medical experts, CDC Director Robert Redfield and dozens of Atlas’ former colleagues at Stanford University have all criticized. “Everything he says is false,” Redfield said about Atlas, according to NBC News.
That depth of the misinformation creates problems beyond the public knowing about Trump’s true health status. The president’s public relations campaign has aimed not only to convince people he’s recovered already, but that COVID-19, which has killed over 210,000 Americans, is simply not that dangerous.
The president has continually pushed the narrative that he’s feeling great despite being hospitalized for three days last weekend and receiving supplemental oxygen. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” Trump tweeted on Monday, adding, “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Trump and his administration have continually downplayed the seriousness of the virus since the pandemic first hit the U.S. Now, his inaction has seemingly driven him into a corner, forcing him to pretend he’s feeling fine and ready to get back to work ― even though the majority of COVID-19 patients experience symptoms for at least two weeks, with some experiencing symptoms for even longer.
Although he was hospitalized for three days last weekend, Trump returned to the White House on Monday. The move goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines that those who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for at least 10 days after symptoms first appear.
Trump’s hypocrisy has put him in a tight spot, creating some truly bizarre situations. Aside from a nationally televised medical exam done by an unqualified, partisan doctor, Trump has had many moments this past week that have exposed just how desperate he and his administration are to prove he’s fully recovered from coronavirus.
Before Trump even left the hospital, he took a joy ride with multiple secret service agents on Sunday to wave to his supporters. He came under sharp criticism for putting agents’ lives and health at risk for personal political gain. Throughout the week, he tweeted several videos of himself giving updates on his condition, including one where he said he believes it was “a blessing from God” that he became infected and then falsely touted a “cure” for the coronavirus.
Trump was hoarse and coughing throughout a Thursday phone interview with Hannity. At one point, the president lost his voice while accusing his opponent Joe Biden of “choking like a dog” during last week’s presidential debate.
Despite being sick with coronavirus himself, Trump announced he will halt all conversations on another COVID-19 relief package until after the presidential election, delaying integral aid to millions. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said this week that there isn’t enough time to pass another COVID-19 stimulus package before the election because the administration is too busy trying to appoint a new Supreme Court justice.
It only took two days before Trump walked back his prior statement, telling right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh on Friday that he “would like to see a bigger stimulus package” and is doing “the exact opposite” of what he said earlier in the week about stopping relief negotiations.
The second presidential debate, initially set for next week, is currently up in the air after Trump refused to partake because organizers announced it would be held virtually “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.” The president is still pushing for an in-person debate despite being positive for COVID-19.
Trump has repeatedly pushed for more rallies ― large gatherings which health experts have warned could further spread the coronavirus ― as the election nears. He’s said multiple times this week that he’d like to hold campaign rallies, but nothing has come to fruition. Instead, he has settled for “virtual rallies” like the one on Limbaugh’s show and carefully staged media appearances where sympathetic hosts are ready to push the narrative that neither Biden nor coronavirus can defeat Trump.
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