Media’s Obsession with Trump Lets Top Health Officials Off the Hook, April 27, 2020

A popular narrative about the COVID-19 pandemic is that President Donald Trump cares little about science and data and that his top public health officials must regularly and valiantly try to restrain him from making foolish decisions or unsound assertions. The narrative gained momentum last week when video of Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, went viral showing her reaction to Trump’s comments about light and disinfectant.

Widespread acceptance of this narrative has contributed to fawning media attention for Trump’s chief medical advisers, such as Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and (to a lesser extent) Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

In Florida, for example, 62 percent of voters say they rely on public health officials the most for accurate information about the coronavirus. By contrast, only 18 percent say the same for Trump.

Certainly, the president should be held accountable for his policies and actions during the gravest public health and economic crisis the country has faced in decades, but public health professionals should not be immune from tough — but informed — questioning, either. The high level of trust placed in them by the American public should be matched by serious scrutiny.

Alas, Trump’s public health advisers are too often viewed as infallible. The change in guidelines on mask-wearing in early April is a great example. With notable exceptions in conservative media, the original guidelines and the subsequent pivot were largely accepted without much second thought or criticism. Yet much is troubling about the instructions issued by the U.S. government on a consequential public health issue.

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