You’re going to hear the phrase “grim milestone” a lot in the coming weeks. The pandemic that was “totally under control,” according to Donald Trump, will have passed 13,000 deaths by the time you read this, with no end in sight.
One grim milestone is how the White House’s propaganda wing, otherwise known as Fox News, is already spinning the deaths of thousands into a win for their guy, and America.
Messaging the president’s woeful mishandling of the pandemic has been a wild ride for Trump’s defenders, a journey that at times has tested even their patience for presidential bullshit and ability to suspend disbelief. The epic propaganda cycle started with the president’s defenders repeating and amplifying his message that the coronavirus was “just the flu” and a political hoax. Then they moved on to how Trump had saved us all with his very leaky China ban, and now they’ve been talking about how Democrats are exaggerating how bad it is, and—I know it sounds like a contradiction but who are you gonna believe, your great leader or your own eyes?—also that we’ve won a crushing victory against “the invisible enemy.”
It’s no easy thing to claim an enormous victory over something you claim doesn’t really exist but if anyone can do it, Trump and his media friends can.
The “just the flu” narrative shifted seamlessly (and shamelessly, of course) into claiming that Democrats are overcounting the dead and then into declaring that Trump has defeated the virus.
The idea is to make Trump’s supporters question everything, starting with the death count. This narrative works for Trumpers because it’s hard to get accurate numbers in the midst of a pandemic, and that uncertainty is now being exploited by people in thrall to Trump. No matter how disconnected from reality, whatever he thinks will get him through the next news cycle will be pushed out during the daily Trump Show and on Fox. The hard fact of America’s body count has to be obscured; it’s just part of his day-trading desperation now.
The truth is that we don’t know how many people have died because of the coronavirus. In the U.S. we don’t have nearly enough tests; in Italy the health-care system is overwhelmed; in China, they appear to just be flatly lying about the number (officially 3,222 even as Wuhan residents report that incinerators have been working around the clock). Right here in New York, where the official state count was 5,489 as of Tuesday, about 200 city residents are now dying at home each day—up from 20 to 25 before all this.
But the shills trotting out excuses for the their leader over the last few weeks don’t care about the truth, which is why presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Trump fluffer Rush Limbaugh is now insisting the “coronavirus is being listed as a cause of death for many people who are not dying because of it.” On Tuesday, he doubled down; “The models, we’re told, have turned out to be way off. They overpredicted death. They overpredicted cases. And they overpredicted hospitalization.”
Noted epidemiologists Diamond and Silk claimed that the number of deaths went up as “everything increased because they wanted to make it look bad in front of our eyes.” Someone please explain to the ladies how exponential growth works.
Fox’s Brit Hume tweeted, “Well, Dr. Birx just said it. Anyone in U.S. who dies with Covid-19, regardless of what else may be wrong, is now being recorded as a Covid 19 death.” Then Brit went on Tucker Carlson’s white power hour and Tucker said, “When journalists work with numbers there sometimes is an agenda.”
Not to be outdone, Candace Owen is also claiming that Democrats are pumping up the death number with some help from the media, and maybe also the medical system, to make Trump look bad. She tweeted Monday, linking to a New York Times op-ed, that “Apparently, doctors and nurses around the world are wondering why no one is dying from heart attacks and strokes anymore. Flu and pneumonia deaths also went off a cliff. Turns out everyone is only dying of #Coronavirus now. Gee. I wonder why.”
Presidential pardon recipient Dinesh D’Souza tweeted, “It seems the death rate is being exaggerated, as it was in Italy, by including people with other terminal conditions. People routinely die from other things so the real #Coronavirus death rate comes from subtracting the “normal” rate (say from last year) from the current rate.”
A sea of anonymous Twitter and Facebook posts are talking about how all “drug overdoses, heart attacks, and other deaths” will be classified as COVID-19 now. One particularly ghoulish Trump media played out from the #filmyourhospital hashtag, launched by a QAnon conspiracy theorist who took photos of an empty hospital parking lot and then wrote an opinion column based on these pictures declaring that “No, New York City has not been turned into an apocalyptic war zone.” Pro-tip: Coronavirus patients tend not to be treated in parking lots, though I was kind of impressed he managed to miss all the refrigerated mobile morgue trailers.
To the Trumpists, the global pandemic isn’t a global pandemic at all—it’s the Truman show that’s been created merely as a way for the wicked news media (whose industry has been rocked by the virus) to blame Trump, again. But there is something spectacularly unseemly about diminishing the deaths of thousands of Americans that way.
Tuesday night, out of nowhere, Fox News spent primetime proclaiming the president’s victory in his war with the enemy that never was. Tucker Carlson used the chyron “Virus is doing less damage than we anticipated.” Laura Ingraham displayed a chyron that said “Flawed COVID-19 projections spark panic.” The message was clear: The Great Leader is defeating COVID, and the real enemy, the rest of the news media.
And then the president said it himself Wednesday, that “Once we OPEN UP OUR GREAT COUNTRY, and it will be sooner rather than later, the horror of the Invisible Enemy, except for those that sadly lost a family member or friend, must be quickly forgotten. Our Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before!!!”
As I write this America has 430,902 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 14,766 deaths attributed to the virus—and that’s with very limited testing. I mean, just because New York City’s morgues are overflowing and we lost more than twice as many people yesterday than were murdered here in all of last year, that’s not going to stop this president from declaring victory. After all, New York was never going to vote for Trump anyway.