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Donald Trump took his hatred of the press to a new level Friday, even while he is ostensibly supposed to be uniting the country during this difficult time of coronavirus outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump unloaded on NBC News reporter Peter Alexander in the White House briefing room, while Alexander maintains that he was actually only trying to offer Trump the chance to answer a “softball,” or easy, question designed to demonstrate leadership.
The outbreak continues to take its toll, as there have been more than 275,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 175,000 cases still active. The virus has killed more than 11,000 worldwide.
In the United States, 15,219 have been sickened, and 201 have died, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The confrontation began when Alexander asked the president, “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now, who are scared?”
Trump exploded in response: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. Go ahead. I think it’s a very nasty action and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope, and you’re doing sensationalism.
Trump continued the tirade: “And the same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call — I don’t call it Comcast, I call it Con-cast, for whom you work. Let me just tell you something. That’s really bad reporting. And you want to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot.”
Alexander came back on the air later, to discuss the encounter with NBC and MSNBC host Chuck Todd, who asked whether Trump’s unraveling was potentially due to the stress that he’s under during the crisis.
“Is the pressure getting to the president here? He seems very defensive. particularly — I think we saw a great example of it at the end,” Todd said. “Dr. [Anthony] Fauci gave a straightforward honest answer about the testing challenges that have been a problem from the get-go here. And the president, you could see him goose the vice president, ‘Don’t you want to answer that?’ Then the president came in with suddenly a new spin on what happened there. Is the pressure getting to him?”
“Well, I think Americans will make their own judgment based on what they saw here, Chuck,” Alexander replied. “Obviously they are looking for a president and a task force in whom they can be confident and feel safe and secure knowing that everything’s being done to help protect them at home right now. As you witnessed, there was a moment, you and I are baseball fans, we call it a ‘softball,’ trying to provide the president an opportunity to reassure millions of Americans who are witnessing the death toll now approach 200 and the number of those who have already tested positive for COVID-19 approaching 14,000 or surpassing it. What he would say to Americans who were scared?
“The president, as you witnessed, instead took it out on me and said that I was a terrible reporter. I mean clearly this was an opportunity for him to be positive and to be uplifting, optimistic as he likes to be. I asked him before that, which I think frustrated him perhaps, is whether it’s his sort of impulse to put a positive spin on things, is that maybe giving false hope to Americans,” Alexander added. “As we witnessed just yesterday, he said about some of those possible therapies that he — that there would be immediate delivery. In fact, Dr. Fauci himself said there was no magic drug for coronavirus.
“But just to really underscore this moment, I asked the same question, Chuck, as you witnessed, of the vice president about an hour later in that briefing and he provided the answer that frankly a lot of Americans at home, my neighbors with whom I speak are looking for, which is, to the question of should Americans be afraid, should they be scared, he said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Be vigilant.’ Chuck?” Alexander said.
Todd ended the segment by saying, “Peter, on behalf of all of my colleagues, all of our colleagues, I want to thank you for your professionalism and the way you do represent NBC News and the Comcast family in that room. I wish people on the other side of the podium had the same professionalism as well. So thank you, Peter.”
The explosive confrontation was so noteworthy as to attract attention and discussion on competing news outlets, including CNN, where host John King backed Alexander.
“The American people are looking for answers, they do want hope, they do want support, Mr. President,” King said, addressing Trump directly. “That was a very fair question.
“Kaitlin, this is a Trump trademark, it was striking that this came, this, forgive me, bullshit attack on fake news came just moments after the secretary of state said the American people needed to be careful about where they get their information, and go to sources they can trust,” King added.
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