- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

President Trump’s attempted truce with the media over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has ended.

After several days of offering unusual praise of the media for covering him fairly, Mr. Trump on Wednesday blasted reports portraying him as failing to take the pandemic seriously until it was too late.

“Calm doesn’t mean I’m not taking it seriously,” the president said.

He also challenged a journalist after she accused an unnamed White House staffer of describing the coronavirus as the “kung flu,” and dismissed repeated questions from reporters of alleged racism.

“The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the ‘borders’ from China - against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved.”

On camera, Mr. Trump seemed to be trying not to take the bait when reporters repeatedly asked if he was being racist for calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus.” The virus originated in Wuhan, China.

“It’s not racist at all,” Mr. Trump said. “It comes from China.”

“PBS NewsHour” reporter Yamiche Alcindor told Mr. Trump that “at least one White House official” had used the term “kung flu,” and asked him if it was wrong.

“I wonder who said that,” the president replied evenly. “Do you know who said that?”

“I’m not sure the person’s name,” Ms. Alcindor answered.

“Say the term again,” Mr. Trump demanded.

“A person at the White House used the term ‘kung flu,’” she repeated.

“Kung flu?” Mr. Trump asked.

“Kung flu,” she said. “Do you think the term is wrong? And do you think using the term ‘Chinese virus’ puts Asian Americans at risk, that people will target them?”

“No, not at all,” the president said, addressing her second question. “I think they probably would agree with it 100%. It comes from China. There’s nothing not to agree [with].”

Said one White House staffer, “Any leader in this situation would want to project calm. We have something huge that we’re dealing with right now. He’s pushing back [with the media] where necessary. It’s a balance.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway chided reporters who asked her about an anonymous official allegedly using the term.

“Excuse me!” Mrs. Conway said. “Of course it’s wrong. But you can’t just make an accusation and not tell us who it is.”

A Trump campaign official, Andrew Clark, tweeted after the briefing that he “cannot stress enough how tone deaf these questions sound to literally anyone outside the press briefing room.”

White House aides also expressed frustration with the media’s priorities. One staffer called the questions about racism “petty and counterproductive.”

“This [calling it the ‘Wuhan virus’] is not something that the left media hasn’t used,” the aide said.

The developments quickly ended what might have qualified as a brief era of good feelings for Mr. Trump with the media. On Tuesday, the president had sounded generally pleased with the press coverage of his response to the pandemic.

“We’re all in this together, including you, and we want to see fair press,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “And I tell you what: Generally speaking, I think it’s been — it’s been a great thing to see.”

On Monday, he said of the press, “I think a lot of the media actually has been very fair. I think people are pulling together on this.”

The White House aide said Mr. Trump had been “trying to get them [the media] to work with us.”

Several aides have noted that even Democratic governors who have been openly hostile to Mr. Trump, and vice versa, such as Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York, have been largely complimentary of the president and cooperative in the crisis.

“Even these people, who are so politically divided most of the time, can come together,” an aide said.

But with the media, the president seemed to be back at a combative square one.

The last question at the president’s coronavirus briefing came from a journalist who told the president that even “before the pandemic, there were a lot of Americans that were already alienated. We saw depths of despair increasing through suicide and other things.”

With those same despondent Americans now self-isolating from the virus, he asked Mr. Trump, what was his message to them?

“To those Americans who are going through a lot, we love them, we’re with them and we will not let them down,” Mr. Trump said.

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