If not for a free and inquisitive press, it is unclear what America would know about the health of the leader of the free world. President Trump’s personal doctor, Sean Conley, and his Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, have given incomplete and often conflicting messages at a time when the White House is facing the most severe medical crisis since Ronald Reagan was shot nearly 40 years ago.
Recall that when Hope Hicks, the president’s senior advisor, tested positive for Covid-19, it was not announced by an official government spokesperson. Rather, the diagnosis was first revealed by Bloomberg News. Only days later came news of President Trump’s positive test result.
And now the White House is a super-spreader venue. More than a dozen aides and visitors to White House events have recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
It’s one thing to tell falsehoods about inauguration crowd sizes. But it is perilous to hide or distort news of this deadly disease.
“We have never seen anything like this,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss told MSNBC on October 5. “Every sign we have is that President Trump’s doctors and aides are not being truthful. History shows that the best thing for them, the best thing for the country, is to be as open about the president’s condition and his treatment as they possible can.”
“There’s a couple of reasons for that,” Beschloss explained. “Number one, it’s their obligation. We have a right to know. Our security and that of our families depends on the president’s ability to operate. Number two, if you are frank and candid, you avoid rumors. When you are not frank and candid, people assume that the president’s condition is a lot worse than it really is. And they assume the worst. They say that something terrible has happened. Presidents get the best medical care when there is openness.”
Remarkably, the White House tried to keep news of Hicks’s positive test secret. And upon his release from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president told the public, “Don’t let [COVID-19] dominate you” and “Don’t be afraid of it.” As USA Today said in a headline, “Trump is nation’s single largest spreader of disinformation.”
Fortunately, the media has been able to track down the truths and untruths about what is known and when critical events occurred.
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, was more blunt. “From the start of his Presidency, Donald Trump has threatened the health and the security of the United States. It has now been made clear that Trump’s incompetence, cynicism, and recklessness have threatened his own welfare.”
The skepticism of the White House’s coronavirus messaging runs across the political spectrum. “The president . . . told the nation, ‘don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you’re going to be it,’” the National Review shared. But, the magazine added, “He has access to the best doctors, the best medical equipment, and the best medicines, including experimental treatments. Not everyone else in America or the world has the same.”
The free and inquisitive press will help keep Americans informed and, hopefully, safe. That cannot be said of everyone.
While promoting his new book, “Trust: America’s Best Chance,” former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, added this on MSNBC, “The problem right now is that we see trust breaking down. . . . I’m especially troubled by this week’s news. Think about the way it feels, wondering whether you can trust the president’s doctor to be telling us the truth. He represents the White House, the military, and medicine, three of the institutions we should be most able to trust in moments of crisis. And yet Americans are wondering whether we can believe anything we’re hearing about the president’s condition, when the president was diagnosed, and it speaks to that bigger problem.”
Robert D. Lystad is the Executive Director of the non-profit Campaign for Free Speech, based in Washington, D.C.