The communicator in chief's messaging turned the corner tonight. After several weeks of behind-the-scenes debate, the president’s medical team seems to have made an impact. Both the president and his task force presented a united message on the potential severity of the novel coronavirus. In addition, the messaging seems in concert about how to fight the virus.
After weeks of denying and downplaying the virus’s severity, the president, during a 90-minute news conference, delivered a message more in line with one his White House task force on coronavirus had recommended for weeks.
Easter No More
Shelving his earlier idea of re-opening the country for Easter—the president and other administration officials termed that message late this week and today as “aspirational”—Trump extended the social distancing regime through April 30. The current guidelines were set to expire tomorrow.
Uniform messaging is a hallmark of crisis communications. For several weeks, the task force said the U.S. should take the virus and mitigation practices seriously, including distancing and regular hand-washing.
Economy vs. Virus
More recently, the president distributed messages that efforts to control the spread of the virus were destroying the economy. He tweeted that the cure should not be worse than the problem, hinting there was a possibility that Americans could return to work March 30. Economic advisor Larry Kudlow voiced the same message March 23. The day before, Vice President Mike Pence said people who'd been exposed to coronavirus could go back to their jobs provided they wore masks.
WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
This evening Trump acknowledged the situation’s severity. It also appears the economists and business advisors lost the argument.
Why the Change?
It is unclear what or who influenced the president to align his message with scientists. Earlier in the day, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the task force’s most notable member, told CNN that it was conceivable 100,000 Americans could die of the virus. That interview might have done it.
Similarly, projections Fauci reportedly showed a possibility of 1 to 2 million American deaths should the country relax mitigation efforts.
In addition, during the press briefing, the president acknowledged watching troubling scenes of Elmhurst (NY) Hospital on TV. He described seeing pictures of refrigerated trucks lined up the hospital to remove bodies. The president grew up near the hospital.
While medical officials are grateful that the president and his doctors are speaking from the same script, critics noted the presser still contained an ample amount of content that added nothing to fighting the virus.
For example, the president once again bashed the press, calling out CNN as “fake news” when a reporter attempted to ask him about earlier public statements.
PR pros counsel that there are few better ways to antagonize the press than to publicly insult reporters. They also recommend owning your mistakes. Clearly, the president has changed his thinking about the virus. He should acknowledge earlier misjudgments.
In addition, the president bashed CNN’s ratings. By comparison, ratings for his White House briefings, Trump noted, were strong, similar to those for ESPN's “Monday Night Football” and a reality series finale. He tweeted about ratings earlier in the day. It's not a political statement to say bragging about high ratings does nothing to help health care workers, their patients and families. The priority is fighting coronavirus.
Because the “Ratings” of my News Conferences etc. are so high, “Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers” according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. “Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.” said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2020
In addition, the president also seemed to accuse hospital staff of hoarding protective equipment and ventilators. Again, standard PR advice is that leaders should attend to fixing crisis issues rather than seeking to blame people.
Last, the amount of congratulating was excessive. One of the president's favorite expressions seems to be "You're doing a great job." Similarly, it's clear just about everyone who ascends to the podium is urged to begin their remarks with a salute to the president's "leadership." Again, it's unclear how this continued obeisance is helping the fight against coronavirus.
This article is part of PRNEWS' daily COVID-19 coverage, click here to see the latest updates.