Washington Post's analysis of Dan Crenshaw's videos isn't very convincing

Over the weekend a couple of videos of Dan Crenshaw defending the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus went viral. It helped that President Trump retweeted one of the clips:

Today, Washington Post writer Aaron Blake wrote a fact-check of sorts about the clip which I saw some on the left pointing to as a devastating takedown of Rep. Crenshaw. I’m not convinced it’s all that devastating. In fact, I think some of Blake’s fact-checking is pretty thin. [Emphasis added}

In the videos, Crenshaw is measured and calm, coming off as a reasonable defender of Trump rather than a fire-breather. He takes care to say he’s merely defending Trump rather than casting blame on Democrats and the media.

But if the video is the best defense of Trump, that says a lot about the state of Trump’s defense — because it includes misrepresentations, incorrect and context-free claims and false choices…

Jan. 31: Crenshaw says Trump implements China travel restrictions “even though things like the World Health Organization were saying ‘no need to limit trade and movement,’ and they largely criticized President Trump’s travel restrictions.”

This is an incorrect summary of the WHO’s comments on travel bans. The headline shown on the screen comes from Reuters on Feb. 3 and says, “WHO chief says widespread travel bans not needed to beat China virus.” In the story, the WHO’s head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, doesn’t say there is “no need” for travel bans at all; he instead says there was no need to “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.” He is quoted saying, “We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent.” That’s not saying there should be no bans but instead that countries should be judicious with them.

So what Rep. Crenshaw said in the video is the first highlight above. It’s a paraphrase not an exact quote. But the second highlight is what WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros actually said. Are they really that different? I don’t think so. Here’s the advice WHO published on January 24th and renewed on January 27th. Under a section titled “Health measures related to international travel” it reads, “With the information currently available for the novel coronavirus, WHO advises that measures to limit the risk of exportation or importation of the disease should be implemented, without unnecessary restrictions of international traffic.” In other words, no need for a travel ban. Again, that’s pretty much what Rep. Crenshaw said in the clip, i.e. “no need to limit trade and movement.”

Blake seems to be suggesting the WHO didn’t absolutely rule out a travel ban. Well, that’s true I guess but then it has no authority to rule anything in or out. All it can do is issue guidance. And the guidance at the time was that travel bans were not recommended.

Crenshaw also repeated Trump’s claim that the WHO “largely criticized” the president’s travel restrictions; STAT News has found no evidence to bolster that claim.

Trump did say that but it’s not true that STAT news found “no evidence” of criticism from WHO.

One of the core complaints the president leveled at the WHO is that it criticized his administration’s announcement on Jan. 31 that it was closing U.S. borders to foreign nationals who had been in China in the previous 14 days…

The record doesn’t bear the president’s claim out, however. Senior leaders of the WHO, including Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have been holding three-times weekly press briefings for several months now. They have not overtly criticized the United States — or any other country — for instituting travel bans.

They did, however, talk about how such bans exceed the bounds of the International Health Regulations 2005.

You can click over and read a description of the International Health Regulations 2005 but basically it was designed to prevent countries including the U.S. from instituting travel restrictions unless they are recommended by the WHO. So it’s true that the WHO didn’t “overtly” attack Trump or call out the U.S. but they did complain that bans in place (including in the U.S.) were in violation of the regulations that said only the WHO should decide when such bans are necessary. That’s an indirect and less confrontational way to complain but it’s still a criticism of the U.S. action. Moving on:

“Fast forward a couple weeks when the president actually asked Congress for supplemental funding to combat the virus. What did Nancy Pelosi do? Instead of putting that money on the House floor to be voted on, she put a bill to ban flavored tobacco.”

As PolitiFact has noted, there were ongoing negotiations about the funding package until early March. The Trump administration also asked for the funding on Feb. 24, when the bill on flavored tobacco and vaping products already was on the agenda. The GOP-controlled Senate at the time was taking up antiabortion-rights bills.

The House did vote on the vaping bill on Feb. 28. It passed but there was concern among Democrats that it might fail and embarrass Democrats. The overall point Crenshaw is making is that no one on either side of the aisle was taking the virus as seriously in February as we all do now. The vape vote demonstrates Democrats weren’t laser focused on corona funding even at the very end of the month.

March 12: Trump announced Europe restrictions, which Crenshaw said prompted “widespread criticism. ‘How could you do this?’ ‘What’s the point of this?’ Well, does this really sound like an administration that’s in denial about this? Of course not.”

In making this point, Crenshaw showed headlines raising questions about the Europe ban Trump announced. Most of those headlines weren’t questioning the need for the ban. Instead, they pointed to the selective nature of the countries involved — i.e. exempting some countries in which Trump has businesses interests — or simply reported that the European Union objected to the ban, rather than journalists taking positions themselves.

Again, Blake’s summary of what the sources say leaves a lot to be desired. There was criticism of the need for the European travel ban. In fact, here’s the opening graph of the story he links to in his response:

European officials on Thursday strongly condemned President Trump’s decision to severely restrict travel from Europe to the United States, a move that took them by surprise and that many saw as politically motivated.

Of all the slights between Washington and Europe in recent years, the 30-day travel restrictions — covering non-U.S. citizens who have been to 26 nations across much of the European Union — was a more stinging blow than was felt in previous disputes. In a short statement rare in its directness, the E.U. expressed deep frustration.

They did condemn it.

“This is the main point here: If we’re going to look back in time and try to suggest that our government should have shut everything down back in February, well, where’s the evidence for that? Were we really going to shut things down when our cases hadn’t really started to increase — when it barely started to increase in places like Italy or Iran? Of course not, they didn’t shut things down until way later.”

This is a false choice that Trump has referred to repeatedly. It pretends as if the decision was between the little that the federal government did in February and a total shutdown of the country. In fact, there were few calls for a shutdown in February — when, as Crenshaw notes, even countries that were hit harder at the time than the United States hadn’t taken that step. Trump has sought to suggest critics wanted things shut down in January, despite there being very few cases at the time.

The fact that Crenshaw concluded with this says plenty about the aim of his video.

Blake calls this a false choice and suggests Trump should have done something that would have prevented the spread of the virus without saying what that something is. You’re just supposed to imagine that it could have been better if that something had been done. The fact that Blake can’t explain what that something is or how it was an option in mid-February says plenty about the quality of his criticism.

Here’s the other video of Crenshaw that went viral this weekend. It’s him making some of the same points in a debate with Bill Maher.

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