WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump startled White House reporters on Monday (April 13) by airing a video at his daily coronavirus briefing that sounded like a campaign re-election advert.
Despite a US death toll of 23,200, Trump insisted his administration had superbly mitigated the damage, at one point even claiming that his actions saved “tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of lives”.
To the shock of reporters gathered for his briefing on the pandemic, Trump played a self-congratulatory, anti-media video during the press conference.
Several news outlets, which have taken to broadcasting most or all of the lengthy events live, quickly cut away.
Asked why he aired the video, Trump was curt: “because we’re getting fake news”. Trump has jousted with journalists for years, but his airing of the video appeared to mark a new point of conflict with the press corps.
CNN anchor John King, who spent years covering the White House, said that “to play a propaganda video at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room is a new – you can insert your favourite word here”.
Afterwards, Trump repeatedly insisted he took the right step in banning flights from China in late January, and expressed flashes of anger at reporters who asked him tough questions.
“We really have done this right,” Trump said. “The problem is the press doesn’t cover it the way it should be.”
Trump also raised alarms when he discussed his desire to rapidly re-open the shuttered US economy, saying he had “the ultimate authority to decide when states should command businesses to reopen, rather than the states themselves”.
“The authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total,” he said.
Trump’s video featured clips that highlighted his decisive action and included Democratic governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California praising his response.
But it did not show Trump downplaying the threat of the virus as he did repeatedly in January and February.
The pandemic has prevented Trump and his likely Democratic election rival, former vice president Joe Biden, from hosting traditional campaign events like rallies and town halls.
While Biden shelters at home, like most Americans, and airs webcasts from his basement studio, Trump has relished using his pulpit at the White House briefings.