In Depth

Coronavirus press conference: was this Donald Trump’s ‘biggest meltdown’?

US president is described as a ‘toddler throwing a self-pitying tantrum’

Donald Trump has used his daily White House briefing to attack reporters over criticism of his strategy against the new coronavirus.

The US president played a video produced by his team that showed select clips of state governors praising him, and went on to call journalists “fake” and “disgraceful”.

“We’ve done this right, we’ve really done this right, the problem is the press doesn’t cover it,” he said.

And asked what power he had over state officials to re-open the country, Trump said: “I have the ultimate authority”.

What has the reaction been?

“In one of the most unchained presidential tantrums ever captured on television, Trump’s Monday display flouted every notion of calm leadership by the commander in chief in a crisis,” said CNN.

Sky News reports that “rather than using the platform to pay tribute to the hundreds of Americans who lost their lives to coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the president repeatedly listed what he’d done well”.

The BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel called it “the most dizzying, jaw-dropping, eyeball-popping, head-spinning news conference I have ever attended”.

“This wasn’t about the dead, the desperately sick, the people fearful of catching the virus. This was about him,” said Sopel.

Of the video, he writes: “After a few moments he said he was going to play a video. It had been produced by White House staff, even though it bore all the hallmarks of a campaign video. If it was a movie, it would have been called ‘Coronavirus: Why Donald Trump is Great – and the Media Awful’.”

CNN called the video “misleading propaganda… a campaign-style video to mislead the nation about his sluggish recognition of the threat from the virus”.

“WH just played what appeared to be a campaign video defending Trump. In the briefing room. Just like a rally,” tweeted CNN reporter Jim Acosta. The conference was “the biggest meltdown I have ever seen from a president of the United States.”

The New York Times says the video “largely skipped over February and early March, when public health experts say the administration failed to provide enough testing for the virus and did not act quickly enough to promote social distancing and prevent its spread”.

David Smith of The Guardian writes: “With a dramatic flourish, the president ordered the briefing room lights dimmed. In a James Bond film, it would be the moment that poisoned gas is piped into the room. What happened wasn’t far off: a campaign-style montage of video clips, shown on screens set up behind the podium.”

Summing up the conference, Smith says: “A toddler threw a self-pitying tantrum on live television on Monday night. Unfortunately he was 73 years old, wearing a long red tie and running the world’s most powerful country.”

MSNBC commentator Sam Stein tweeted: “I’ve defended broadcasting Trump’s pressers but there is literally no reason to broadcast a propaganda ad. It’s absurd.”

The Democratic National Committee issued a statement saying that the president “commandeered the briefing to run campaign propaganda to soothe his small ego and pathetically try to cover up for his own failed response”.

But some reacted positively to Trump’s meltdown. “The mainstream media is melting down because Donald Trump showed them clips of their own coverage,” said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Twitter.

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