Commentary: Trump’s made-for-TV ‘medical exam’ is as much a sham as his COVID-19 response
President Trump appeared on Fox News Friday evening for his first on-camera television interview since announcing last week that he’d tested positive for COVID-19. The event: a made-for-TV “medical exam” by the network’s resident medical expert, Dr. Marc Siegel, during “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“This is not officially a tele-visit,” said Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health who has himself spread coronavirus misinformation, such as touting hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment and claiming that the disease was no worse than the flu.
“But I hope you’ll indulge me,” continued Siegel. “You be the patient, and I’ll be the doctor here.”
And playacting it was. The interview resembled the type of propaganda we’re used to seeing from foreign dictators, pumped out via state-sponsored media: Russia’s Vladimir Putin showing off his muscular physique to prove he’s still virile, the lethal Saddam Hussein hugging children and aiding the less fortunate. But this was coming from Washington.
Never mind the 210,000 Americans who’ve died after contracting COVID-19, or the thousands more who will if the president continues to fail to lead. It was all about propping up Trump before the election.
Groomed and spray-tanned, Trump was posed in front of the American flag for the taped, edited interview. He never coughed, and rarely wheezed, the picture of scripted health. And if you’re wondering whether he clarified the actual date he knew he was positive, forget it. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, even Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, would have asked more doctorly questions than Siegel.
As with most everything about his presidency, Donald Trump’s diagnosis with COVID-19 and transfer to Walter Reed hospital was both unprecedented and surreal.
When you were in the hospital, what was bothering you most?
“I got lucky with a certain medicine. ... It was miraculous to me.” Trump also claimed that he “didn’t have a problem with breathing,” though his own doctor, Sean Conley, confirmed that the president received supplemental oxygen as part of his course of treatment.
Were you scared, were you frightened?
“Well I took the Regeneron [an antibody cocktail made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals]. ... Ely Lilly makes a similar medicine. ... We’re gonna send it to everybody free of charge.”
How long did they want to keep you, the doctors?
“I don’t know, exactly. They did a tremendous job.”
When asked about the tests they ran, Trump said they tested his lungs with “different” machinery, taking pains to note that he did so without even having to remove his jacket. “It tested good.” Trump added that he had been “medication-free” for approximately eight hours as of the interview — the exact timing of which was not revealed — but did not say whether that means his course of treatment is finished.
Could you talk to me about the drive you took out of Walter Reed and PPE and the well-wishers and what you were thinking when you did that?
“I had tremendous numbers of people. ... I could hear them from the hospital ... screaming and shouting with real love.”
Trump said the Secret Service who had to ride in the hermetically sealed SUV with him had no problem taking the ride. Nor did he have any qualms. “The people in were protected. They were very heavily protected. I guess at that time I would have been positive? ... I’m very glad I did it.”
What about the rest of America — to say nothing of the globe — which is suffering through the pandemic both economically and health-wise? Oh right, them. Trump mentioned his constituents sparingly, and Siegel didn’t ask.
Mr. President, lessons learned [from] this, from your own illness, that you would apply to stewarding the ship forward in the fight in the pandemic .. how you can apply it to other people who have COVID-19 or how to prevent getting COVID-19?
It was important he caught it early, said Trump. “You know, I have such great access to medical. ... It’s a lot easier for me than someone who doesn’t have access to a doctor so easily, where it’s a big deal to see a doctor. But you know here, we have ‘em all over the White House [chuckle].”
As Donald Trump and Joe Biden try to sway the rapidly vanishing “undecided voter,” 2020 is the year the presidential debates become pure TV spectacle.
His response was a painful slap in the face to everyone who has lost their lives or a loved one to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the GOP was busy plowing ahead on the conformation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a judge whose installment on the court threatens Obamacare, a lifeline for many in the midst of a public health crisis and economic collapse.
Trump’s interview on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” followed a radio call with Rush Limbaugh earlier in the day, when the men spoke for two hours. Apparently Trump had nothing better to do. The host finally had to cue up the music to end the interview: “Mr. President,” he said, “I know you’ve got a jam-packed day.” Trump has also recently called in for prolonged, rambling chats with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo and his Fox News pal Sean Hannity.
Despite being released from the hospital mere days ago, the president’s schedule now includes an in-person gathering at the White House on Saturday. Trump said in a tweet Friday that he would “be in Sanford, Florida on Monday for a very BIG RALLY!” Michigan and Pennsylvania are also on his agenda.
“A lot of people are around me, so I think about it,” said Trump when Siegel asked about the dangers of the virus. “And I know there’s a danger, but I can’t be somebody who ... hide[s] in basement the rest of my life. I’m running a country.”
Siegel did at least ask Trump if he’d been had been tested since being treated, a subject on which the president’s doctors and aides have stonewalled, along with when he had his last negative test before being hospitalized, and whether he suspected he might have been exposed before last week’s debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden. “I have been retested,” Trump said, scarcely clarifying the matter. “I haven’t found out numbers yet or anything. I’m at the bottom of the scale or free.”
When asked about debating Biden in person versus doing it over videoconference — the scuffle over which led the Commission on Presidential Debates to cancel the second presidential debate earlier in the day — Trump said, “Who wants to debate on a computer? I don’t.”
But apparently doing a virtual “medical exam” is just fine.
“It’s one thing you learn,” said Trump of his illness, nine months into a pandemic that has killed 213,000 thousand Americans and infected nearly 7.7 million and counting. “This is a contagious disease.”
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