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Politics & Government

Trump Shows Campaign-Style Video During COVID-19 Briefing

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The partisan divide on the pandemic is widening again. Early in the time of coronavirus, conservative media matched President Trump in downplaying the crisis. Later, key personalities like Sean Hannity insisted they'd always taken it seriously. The hosts of "Fox & Friends" abandoned their spots near each other on a couch and practiced social distancing on camera. Now we've entered a new phase. Yesterday at a White House briefing, the president spent 45 minutes attacking media who do not openly support him; media that do have resumed questioning the pandemic.

Jonah Goldberg is here to talk about this. He's a columnist and editor-in-chief of The Dispatch. Jonah, good morning.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, good morning, Steve. Great to be here, sort of.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Hope everything's OK in your basement there. Let's listen to a little bit of Bill Bennett, leading conservative figure for decades. He appeared on Fox News just yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL BENNETT: This was not and is not a pandemic. But we do have panic and pandemonium as a result of the hype of this, and it's really unfortunate. Look at the facts.

INSKEEP: Not a pandemic? I guess it depends on what the meaning of the word pandemic is.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. Look, I'm old friends with Bill. I have some profound disagreements with him these days. I think that appearance was pretty shameful and just completely off the mark on the science, the epidemiology and all - and even the economics. But since we're here to talk about the politics, what is sort of symptomatic, to use a probably inappropriate word these days, of that - of his appearance was he went on for about four minutes and gave what would have been seen as an absolutely withering indictment of this administration if he had just said the words this administration or President Trump. But instead, it was all passive voice about how we've scared people or the media's scared people or - and it never laid a glove on the president himself when in fact, the - a lot of the policies that he says are misguided and dumb and even calling it a pandemic come from this administration.

And it's a function of - it's a slice of what you see a lot around large swaths of the right, which really does not like the response to the pandemic, but they don't want to lay any of the blame at the feet of the president of the United States. And so instead, this chasm opens up for all sorts of conspiracy theories and whack-a-doo talking points about how, you know, this incredibly strong and decisive president who's in charge of everything is being ensorcelled and bedeviled by Anthony Fauci.

INSKEEP: Does the media ecosystem reward people who push these kinds of opinions?

GOLDBERG: (Laughter) Yes. I can run off a long list of people who, you know - I mean, the American media climate in general, regardless of ideology, likes to reward people who are gadflies and, you know, controversialists. You know, Michael Moore comes to mind. But these days, on the right, there are any large number of people who basically can spew a lot of nonsense so long as it is seen as extolling the president or the MAGA agenda, whatever that is.

INSKEEP: But this is very interesting because I think you're telling me that Bill Bennett maybe genuinely feels this is not a pandemic, that this is an overblown response, but he can't quite say so because that would contradict the president too much. And yet it is the president himself who's talking about reopening the country and being eager to get back to work and that sort of thing.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I mean, look - I mean, Bill's position is that this is all very bad policy, but he just won't close the deal - close the circle and lay it at the feet of the president of the United States. More broadly, I mean, this has been a dynamic that has been, you know, confounding for a long time since President Trump came into office, is that you're simply - you're not allowed to make - we basically have seen vast swaths of the right internalize the president's hypersensitivity to criticism. And so the only way you can make any arguments about public policy is it has to be praising the president himself. And that skews the conversation terribly.

INSKEEP: In a sentence or so, are media figures like this putting people at risk by downplaying the pandemic?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. Yes, they are. They're going to tell everybody, get out of your house. It's all a fraud. And they're going to get - some people are going to get sick.

INSKEEP: Jonah, thanks so much. Really appreciate your analysis.

GOLDBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.