It hasn’t been a good week for Democrats’ political messaging on the coronavirus crisis — and it’s only Tuesday. Their normal media cover disappeared when Nancy Pelosi blew up negotiations in the Senate over the CARES Act, with even the New York Times making it clear that Senate Democrats obstructed progress for badly-needed emergency economic relief. Today, the Washington Post rebukes the Joe Biden campaign for falsely asserting that Donald Trump silenced a CDC official who raised an early alarm on COVID-19.
The campaign released a video with this claim from former Obama administration official and current Team Biden campaign adviser Ron Klain:
Everyone knows that we're facing a real crisis from the coronavirus. But do you know how we got here and what we need to do next? Ron Klain, former White House Ebola Response Coordinator, breaks it down for us: pic.twitter.com/XRkIw2EzM4
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 21, 2020
“All the while, anyone who raised an alarm about this — a red flag — was silenced. Look no further than Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a career official at the Centers for Disease Control who was the first to raise the alarm. … Starting the next day, Dr. Messonnier no longer appeared at public briefings of the White House coronavirus task force. The president and the White House sent a clear message to scientists in the government — there would be a price for speaking out and speaking up.”
Nonsense, writes Glenn Kessler, although the video ended up getting 4 million hits. What actually happened was that Trump started escalating the seriousness of the briefings by using higher-ranking officials:
At the Feb. 26 news conference, Trump announced that Vice President Pence was taking charge of the task force. (Previously, Azar had run it.) From then on, briefings were held at the White House, not the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump headlines each one. One would presume either the director or deputy director would be onstage with the president, not a lower-ranking official.
Messonnier still briefed reporters on behalf of the CDC for at least the next two weeks, as well as on CDC video updates, such as this one a week prior to Klain’s video:
— CDC (@CDCgov) March 14, 2020
Kessler doesn’t mention it, but on the same day that Messonnier allegedly offered a briefing that angered Trump so much he allegedly silenced her, Dr. Anthony Fauci was on television telling reporters the same thing. On MSNBC no less, where Katy Tur used the occasion to take shots at Trump:
If Trump was inclined to muzzle Messonnier over her remarks, why is Fauci still appearing on the dais with Trump at White House briefings? Fauci hasn’t been silenced at all, not even when he disagrees with Trump, at least not yet. Instead, he’s become a rock star of sorts.
Kessler concludes by wondering why Team Biden didn’t just stick to criticisms with a more factual basis, rather than simply make stuff up:
We concede that news reports indicate Trump was upset by her remarks — and that there are signs he is tired of warnings from scientists and doctors as the economy implodes. He has certainly lashed out at people who have disagreed with him or given him information that conflicted with his point of view. We’ve documented Trump’s many false or misleading claims about the coronavirus outbreak.
But that’s no excuse for this video to claim Messonnier was silenced when, in fact, she kept briefing reporters. Klain would have been on more solid ground to refer to the reporting that Messonnier’s message annoyed Trump. But instead, the video created a false narrative. The Biden campaign earns Four Pinocchios.
One has to also ask why Biden and his team would want to make up lies in the middle of a national crisis. There is enough anxiety and stress on Americans as it is without adding to it by falsely undermining the credibility of those higher-ranking CDC officials who are now speaking from the White House briefing room. That’s exactly what Klain did in his video — imply that those officials are only speaking because they stick to Trump’s narrative — and it’s unconscionable. There will be plenty of time to play electoral politics after the crisis has passed and people are less at risk. If this is a preview of what a Joe Biden presidency would look like, voters should take a hard pass.