Rajkamal Rao

How the media may have hurt Trump’s chances of re-election

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on July 13, 2020

With the media focussing only on the rising number of Covid cases, rather than the context behind it, Trump’s authority as a leader is brought to question

Mark Twain famously said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If he saw the media’s reporting today, he would ask, “See?”

US President Donald Trump has attracted more opposition in office than any other leader in recent memory. Since 2016, when his election shook the world, every imaginable group — the Democrats, the media, progressive activists, the so-called Deep State (officials of various government agencies and lobbyists in Washington), the Hollywood elite, the Never-Trumpers in the Republican Party, even foreign leaders and the foreign press — has been critical of his every move.

Their resistance resulted in incessant negative coverage about Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia. Days after that story died, a new scandal came up (Ukraine). Five months later, after 24/7 negative coverage, the Democratic House impeached him — if anyone still remembers — on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in what was a party-line vote. Trump was easily acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Then, Covid-19 hit. The country virtually locked down to help flatten the curve so that hospitals were not overwhelmed. Over 53,000 people aged 70-plus died in nursing homes, a staggering 40 per cent of the total.

The economy tanked as nearly 40 million people lost their jobs. The media had finally found a sweet spot. It could finally report negative stories about the economy for the first time since Trump assumed office.

Trump’s ratings

But Trump’s disapproval ratings barely budged, as he was initially seen as a leader, pushing through pandemic assistance and providing daily briefings about the virus. His approval ratings steadied as states began to slowly open up — in Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, all with Republican governors.

When the May jobs report was released, showing that 2.5 million new jobs were added and the unemployment rate dropped, the media went berserk. The Washington Post sought to discredit the US Labor Department report by saying that some data was misclassified.

Then came the news of George Floyd’s death. Here, the media cast Trump as a White supremacist who was too insensitive to the cause of racial injustice. But this time, it overplayed its hand. Millions demonstrated without masks or following social distancing rules. The media, always complaining that Trump doesn’t wear a mask, said nothing.

Hundreds of statues were destroyed. Some of the media excused such vandalism as expressions of anger. Trump urged force to quell rioting; the media erupted in disgust.

The June jobs report was even better. But the Post added a dampener: “The US economy added 4.8 million jobs in June, but fierce new headwinds have emerged.”

Covid case count

The resistance had suddenly chanced upon a new weapon to go after Trump: the case count of Covid-19 infections. This headwind had the potential of providing negative news in perpetuity. For the last month, the constant drumbeat from the media has been to headline some variant of the case count: A new daily record; the total number of cases to date; the total number exceeding a milestone (three million). The goal is to create panic from a pandemic that is weakening, at least as far as fatalities go.

Scott Atlas, an expert from Stanford and a former member of the panel to screen winners for the Nobel prize in medicine, says that not only are these infections expected, but they are also good to naturally fight the virus. He argues that the case fatality rate for people under 70 is 0.04 per cent, far less than the flu. As more younger people get infected, they will recover, develop antibodies within them, and propel herd immunity.

Indeed, at a clinic in Corona, a hard-hit working-class neighborhood in New York, more than 68 per cent of people tested positive for antibodies to Covid. “In the future, the infection rate should really be lower in minority communities,” Kitaw Demissie, a distinguished epidemiologist, told the New York Times.

The media, however, only focusses on one form of narrative: Case totals are going up. Trump bungled pandemic management. He urged states to open too quickly. States must pause reopening. The economy is in dire straits because he fails to lead.

Public polling is proving that the media has finally hit upon a brilliant strategy. Trump’s numbers are down — no matter who his opponent is. Meanwhile, Joe Biden continues to stay underground, running the clock, afraid to come out and commit gaffes which would further raise doubts about his ability to lead.

So for the first time, Trump looks like he may fail to win re-election. And the resistance may have finally won.

The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC

Published on July 13, 2020

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