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EDITORIAL: Hold briefings without Trump

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He tried but he just couldn’t do it.

After seeming to temporarily rise to the challenge and finally taking the global coronavirus pandemic seriously, President Trump reverted to form Friday, melting down over a softball question.

With more than 30,000 confirmed covid-19 cases in the United States and nea340 rly 400 fatalities, what, asked an NBC reporter, does the president have to say to fearful Americans?

“I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” Trump responded. “That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question.”

So much for reassuring leadership. So much for empathy for the sick and suffering.

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In confronting a virulent virus that has brought much of life in America to sudden standstill, the president has met a challenge he can’t bully, belittle, or tweet away, so his response is to bully those asking about his administration’s response.

The characteristically defensive reaction is just part of the problem. At the now-regularly held media briefings to update the American public on the federal government’s coronavirus actions, Trump routinely does more harm than good.

  • He tosses off overly optimistic timelines for the duration of the outbreak.
  • He misstates the status of potential medical treatments.
  • He insists on calling it the “China virus,” as if it were some foreign invader and not a global health calamity.
  • He overstates the availability of test kits and other medical supplies.
  • He diverts attention from the national emergency with petty digs at reporters and even his own administration.

It’s a disappointing if not surprising display, particularly after the president briefly adopted a more sober, serious tone in press briefings earlier last week.

The confusion and disinformation have not gone unnoticed. Some are calling for pulling the plug on the updates. Others say news media should not broadcast them live. While those responses are understandable, there’s a better way.

The media updates are, in fact, necessary and, when Trump is not behind the microphone, useful. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, the physician and diplomat who the Trump administration brought in to help coordinate its response, are rarities this administration: Competent and knowledgeable professionals whose understanding of the facts inspire confidence. Even Vice President Mike Pence, though congenitally unable to utter a sentence absent a platitude for his boss, seems to have done a decent job getting the White House response team up and running.

So, the answer is obvious: Keep the briefings; lose the president.

Times of crisis require leadership. They demand elected officials who can master intricacies, provide direction, demonstrate empathy and instill confidence. The president has no such qualifications.

Compare Trump’s rambling press-conference vagueries to the focused, fact-filled briefings presented by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the weekend. (He also modeled social distancing practices, leaving plenty of space between his team members, and among reporters.) There’s a reason “PresidentCuomo” was trending on social media.

Similar leadership needs to come from the White House. Lives, livings, fortunes and futures are being inextricably altered and, in some cases, lost. The economy is in free-fall, an overwhelmed and undersourced medical community is scrambling, and thousands of new covid-19 cases are being reported daily, including in Pennsylvania and York County.

President Trump has put together what appears to be a credible team. Now, like any good manager, he ought to let them take the field while he remains in the dugout.