The New York Times featured a front-page article this past weekend with the accusatory headline “He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.” The so-called “newspaper of record” has chosen to scapegoat President Trump rather than thoroughly investigate the true malefactors responsible for the pandemic in the first place – Chinese government officials and the World Health Organization (WHO) leaders who did their bidding. In point of fact, many of the more than 101,000 deaths and at least 1.6 million known infections linked to the pandemic to date might have been prevented if Chinese officials, with WHO’s complicity, had not minimized the danger of the virus’s human to human transmission when it could have been effectively contained. China lied, with WHO’s help, to protect China’s public image rather than to protect human life. However, the Times’ weekend article characterized criticisms of the Chinese government’s response to the virus and lack of transparency as mere assertions by “Mr. Trump’s allies and some administration officials.”
The Times article grossly distorted the facts in order to paint President Trump in as bad a light as possible. For example, the article blamed President Trump for ignoring various government officials’ advice during January 2020 as to the virus’s potential danger to Americans’ health. “Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action,” according to the Times’ account. The article referred to the World Health Organization only once, mentioning that WHO had declared a world health emergency on January 30th. The article omitted WHO’s continued opposition to imposing travel restrictions, which President Trump did anyway the very next day. This decision alone to restrict travelers from China no doubt saved thousands of lives. The Times article also omitted WHO’s statements in mid-January, which had repeated without any qualifications China’s false claims that there was no clear evidence of the Covid-19 coronavirus’s human-to-human transmission. And, not to be forgotten, the impeachment hoax was in full swing during this time, which distracted the Trump administration from conducting the nation’s business.
The Times article alleged in hindsight that President Trump was too slow in accepting his health advisers’ advice to recommend social distancing across the country. But as late as mid-February, Dr. Antony Fauci was saying that “we do not know what this particular virus is gonna do so.” He said then that it was too early to call the coronavirus spread a pandemic, as it appeared in only “24 countries in which there were over five hundred cases.”
On February 24th, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was encouraging people to visit San Francisco’s Chinatown despite fears of the coronavirus. “You should come to Chinatown. Precautions have been taken by our city. We know there is concern about tourism throughout the world but we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hopefully, others will come,” Pelosi said. Unlike Pelosi, President Trump was not advising Americans to go out of their way to risk becoming infected.
By March 8th, Dr. Fauci was discussing publicly the possible need for social distancing over the following three months to slow the spread of the virus. However, health experts were still assessing the situation. “We’re getting a better sense as the days go by,” he said. “Unfortunately, that better sense is not encouraging, because we’re seeing community spread. If you’re a vulnerable person, take it seriously, because particularly when you have community spread, you may not know at any given time that there are people who are infected. It’s common-sense stuff.” Dr. Fauci also expressed doubt that the “the degree of the draconian nature of what the Chinese did would ever be either feasible, applicable, doable or whatever you want to call it in the United States.” In other words, the leap from trying to contain the virus, which was already underway, to recommending nationwide social distancing applicable to all Americans would be a difficult decision to make. But that is precisely what President Trump did. On March 16th, President Trump said at a news conference, “We’d much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it. Therefore, my administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts.”
The Times weekend article characterized President Trump’s hesitancy in moving towards making this decision as driven by his desire to protect the strong economy he planned to trumpet in his re-election campaign. The article claimed that, by the last week of February, the nation’s health experts, including Dr. Fauci, had “concluded they would soon need to move toward aggressive social distancing, even at the risk of severe disruption to the nation’s economy and the daily lives of millions of Americans.” ‘Soon’ was not defined.
During an interview on Sunday, Dr. Fauci said that more lives could have been saved if the social distancing policies had been put into place during February. That may be true with the benefit of hindsight. However, there was no way to know for sure at the time that it mattered – when an unprecedented policy that would disrupt many millions of lives and shut down the economy was under consideration. Under our system of government the president of the United States must balance a variety of factors in coming to a decision with such massive impacts on the American people. The Times article left out the crucial fact that a key study supporting the decision to take such a drastic step was issued on March 16, 2020 – the same day that President Trump announced his administration’s social distancing guidelines. That study acknowledged the difficulties involved. “Suppression, while successful to date in China and South Korea, carries with it enormous social and economic costs which may themselves have significant impact on health and well-being in the short and longer-term,” according to the study. “We show that in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members. This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures, though it should be recognised that such closures may have negative impacts on health systems due to increased absenteeism.”
The March 16 study recommended that countries adopt the suppression strategy as “the only viable strategy at the current time” even though the “social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound.” On March 16, President Trump made his decision in favor of issuing nationwide social distancing guidelines, irrespective of the social and economic costs. Each state, depending on its circumstances, was free to go further and mandate social distancing. California became the first state to set mandatory stay-at-home restrictions. New York did so on March 22nd. By comparison, the United Kingdom waited until March 23rd to introduce its own strict social distancing policies.
There will be time after we succeed together in conquering the coronavirus’s spread in our country to conduct an objective analysis of what could have been done better to prevent the virus’s spread. China’s despicable behavior, with WHO’s help, should be first on the list. The New York Times’ hit piece on President Trump serves no purpose other than to help the Democrats defeat him this November.