White House media briefings hit turbulence as Trump attacks 'enemy'
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The White House abruptly canceled -- and then reinstated -- Monday's coronavirus media briefing after President Donald Trump, ridiculed for his suggestion to inject patients with disinfectant, railed against "enemy" journalists.
The afternoon press conferences -- which began as a way to inform Americans about developments in the crisis but eventually took on the combative tone of Trump's campaign rallies -- have been a daily fixture since March.
On Thursday, a freewheeling Trump ran into a public relations disaster when he suggested people could possibly inject disinfectants to fight the virus, prompting a barrage of scorn, alarm and criticism around the world.
The next day, an angry Trump left the briefing without taking questions. Over the weekend, no briefing was held.
And on Monday, the White House first scheduled a briefing, then called it off -- and then added it back into the agenda.
Trump's new press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said the topic would be "additional testing guidance and other announcements about safely opening up America again."
In the wake of the turmoil, White House strategic communications director Alyssa Farah chipped in with a light-hearted dig.
"We like to keep reporters on their toes," she tweeted, adding a winking emoji.
There's been no such humor coming from the Oval Office -- except, possibly, for the sarcastic kind.
Trump has been incensed by unflattering newspaper reports about his work habits and use of the sometimes two-hour briefings to praise himself, while battering rivals.
He tried damage control after his disinfectant comment by claiming it was sarcasm aimed at journalists during the press conference, although he'd clearly been talking directly to his medical advisors, not the journalists, and there was no sarcasm apparent in his voice.
Over the weekend, he also used the sarcasm defense to explain a bizarre tweet in which he told journalists whom he believes treat him unfairly to give back their "Noble Prizes."
When the Twitterverse lit up with questions about why Trump was misspelling the Nobel Prize, which is not even awarded to journalists, and whether he really meant the Pulitzer Prize, the president complained:
"Does sarcasm ever work?"
On Monday, Trump kept up an anti-media tweet storm, writing: "FAKE NEWS, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!"
"There has never been, in the history of our Country, a more vicious or hostile Lamestream Media than there is right now, even in the midst of a National Emergency, the Invisible Enemy!" Trump also wrote.
New look briefings?
Yet another tweet on Saturday fed rumors that Trump was going to shut down the briefings altogether.
"What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately," Trump wrote, adding his frequent refrain that he got "record ratings."
The Republican incumbent, whose re-election campaign is staggering from the economic shutdown in response to the coronavirus threat, faces huge pressure to demonstrate his leadership.
McEnany indicated that a new strategy would be rolled out, emphasizing Trump's business background and his focus on reopening the US economy.
"We're looking at different ways to showcase this president leading," she told Fox News.
McEnany suggested a shift "to showcase (to) the American people the great entrepreneurship of this president."
"I'm not going to get ahead of what the briefings will look like this week. They may have a different look," she said.