A Useless Semantic Fight and Neutering Brian Kemp: Trump’s Latest Press Conference Was a Real Headscratcher

President Donald J. Trump (L) and CDC Director Robert Redfield (R) are joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, delivers remarks on the COVID-19 pandemic in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.Michael Reynolds/ZUMA

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On Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump was incensed—not because of the ongoing pandemic, or, as Chris Hayes pointed out, the fact that 2,100 Americans died today, but because he felt Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was “misquoted,” to use Trump’s words. In a Washington Post article published yesterday, Redfield warned the second wave of COVID-19 could be worse than the current wave due to it possibly coinciding with flu season. 

Sorry, to be exact, Redfield said it could be “more difficult” than the current wave, not “worse.” See the difference? Not really? Me either! But that’s the crux of the issue here: To Trump, “more difficult” does not mean anything close to “worse,” as the original Post headline paraphrased.

To be clear, Redfield did not appear to take issue with the article when it came out; he tweeted it yesterday evening, pre-Trump-tantrum.

But Trump’s plan to get Redfield to denounce the media and pour cold, cold water on the idea that there would be another severe wave of coronavirus infections pretty much backfired; Redfield explicitly admitted that he was not in fact misquoted:

The Washington Post, for its part, does seem to have changed the offending headline from “CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be worse” to “CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating,” so that’s helpful. Now aren’t we glad we took the time to clear that up? 

The exchange, which left me feeling more than a little dead inside, also inspired an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to The Dixie Chicks, whose new single “Gaslighter” was the tune I chose to blast just before this whole mess started. These little gatherings sometimes truly make me question my own sanity: I slacked my editor midway through Trump’s insistence that the fake news media had screwed it up yet again, and asked, “Am I stupid, what is the problem here?” She assured me that I am not stupid, and hearing Natalie Maines belt, “gasliiiiiiighter, you liiiiiar” in my head while the “briefing” continued was oddly reassuring. I highly recommend it as a White House presser amuse-bouche.

But! I’d be lucky if I could stop there. Adding insult to injury tonight, after the failed Redfield-Was-Misquoted-Let’s-Blame-the-Media Mission, the president said he disagreed with one of his loyal followers, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who this week announced he’d start to reopen the state shortly. Remember, this is just days after Trump’s tweets to “LIBERATE!!!” states from stay-at-home orders.

If you need me, I’ll just be over here. 

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