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OPINION

Trump is battling his critics more fiercely than coronavirus

When the president chastises the press for doing its job, he’s not addressing the myriad ways he is failing to do his own.

Lesley Becker/Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe

During a Monday interview, CNN anchor John Berman hammered Peter Navarro, White House trade adviser, for the Trump administration’s reckless promotion of an anti-malarial drug unproven for COVID-19 prevention or treatment. Attempting to end the tough exchange on a conciliatory note, Berman said, “We all want the same thing — for people to get better from this. . . .”

Navarro interrupted. “I’m not sure we do, sometimes.” A staunch Trump loyalist, Navarro did exactly what his boss does when laid bare as a danger and fraud — he attacked a journalist.

Navarro’s intentions were clear. He sought to portray the morning anchor as more concerned with belittling Trump than with the lives upended — or ended — by this disease. That’s this administration’s latest tactic against those questioning the Trump administration’s pathetic response to the coronavirus crisis.

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Even before his presidency began, Trump was at war with the media. This, despite the fact that, for decades, many journalists were complicit in forging his public reputation as a sage deal-maker and womanizing stud. Trump himself often lobbied for, and got, flattering headlines and stories.

He’s still demanding them, even as his administration sinks under dual pandemics — coronavirus and its own malicious incompetence. That few are buying into his unearned victory lap and revisionist narrative of lies has him lashing out with a fury that makes five years of “fake news” sneering seem like the days of wine and roses.

To his credit, Berman swung back at Navarro’s ugly comment: “Don’t you dare for a second suggest that I don’t want people to get better.” That dirt is exactly what the Trump administration is suggesting.

It’s not just his daily news briefings, where he hazes reporters with personal attacks, chides them to “be nice,” and demeans even softball questions he doesn’t like as “nasty.” Now Trump, members of his administration, and some Republican legislators are branding journalists as reveling in this pandemic’s destruction.

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Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who went from ardently anti-Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign to one of his most ardent lackeys, tweeted last week that “some in our media can’t contain their glee and delight in reporting that the US has more coronavirus cases” than China. He posted this on the same day that Maria Mercader, a CBS News producer, died from COVID-19, and about a week after Larry Edgeworth, an NBC News audio technician, succumbed to the disease.

“Who does Marco Rubio think is taking joy and glee at more people being sick?” asked Jonathan Karl, an ABC News White House correspondent, during an appearance last month on “The View.” At a Monday briefing, Trump snapped at Karl, calling him “a third-rate reporter.”

It’s not a huge leap for Trump to jump from calling the media “the enemy of the people” to painting journalists as bloodthirsty ghouls enjoying the unchecked horrors of this virus. Yet he’s not just chumming the waters for his base. He’s creating a useful distraction from how he continues to enable the pandemic’s spread.

When the president chastises the press for doing its job, he’s not addressing the myriad ways he is failing to do his own. First, he botched preparations for months by ignoring even his own advisers about the coming pandemic. Now he’s ignoring pleas from governors for life-saving equipment for health care workers and patients and refusing to call a national stay-at-home order that would force recalcitrant states to comply.

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It’s Trump who has blood on his hands.

Few things scream “authoritarianism” as loudly as a head of state punishing those who question his actions and reveal his ineptitude. This is Trump’s favorite tool, and he has recently wielded it against a courageous Navy captain who was removed from his command after trying to protect his crew from an outbreak of COVID-19, and a member of his own administration, Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who was fired for handling the whistle-blower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment .

Trump prefers revenge to compassion, retribution to leadership. If he spent as much time battling the pre-pandemic coronavirus as he now spends battling those exposing his failed-state response to the disease, the economy wouldn’t be in shambles, millions wouldn’t be unemployed, and thousands wouldn’t be sick or dead.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.