A video and photos released by the White House meant to show that President Trump is winning his battle with COVID-19 have only raised more questions about an episode clouded by suspicion, rumors and confusion.
Saturday evening the White House released photos of Trump purportedly working at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His daughter and senior adviser Ivanka posted one on Twitter, captioned, “Nothing can stop him from working for the American people. RELENTLESS!”
In one photo, Trump is putting his signature on a sheet of paper, which on close observation appears to be blank.
While multiple photos were released showing Trump in different locations and with different clothes, the corresponding metadata shows they were taken 10 minutes apart, implying to some observers they were staged to create the impression of a full day of presidential business.
The White House also released a video of Trump discussing his improved health and his intention of getting back to work. At one point in the 4-minute video, Trump appears to have coughed but the moment was inexpertly edited out.
Clearly a cut here. Hard to imagine any rationale other than persuading the American public that he is healthier than he actually is, https://t.co/f98KKRlTlp— Christopher Orr (@OrrChris) October 4, 2020
A study from Cornell released last week concluded that Trump himself was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation to the public. Mistrust of the White House was fueled by conflicting information during Saturday’s update on the president’s health, including information about when Trump was first diagnosed that had to be corrected by a subsequent press release. The White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said Trump was in good spirits, had been fever-free for 24 hours and could have walked out of the military hospital, but he refused to specify the president’s vital signs and avoided questions about whether he had received oxygen at any point in his treatment.
Minutes after Conley’s evasive press conference, an anonymous source, later identified as White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, gave pool reporters conflicting information, saying,“The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
Sources also confirmed that Trump had received oxygen at the White House Friday afternoon before he was moved by helicopter to Walter Reed.
On Saturday night, Meadows told Fox News, “Yesterday morning we were real concerned with that. He had a fever and his blood oxygen level had dropped rapidly.”
The news of Trump’s positive COVID-19 test, when it was announced after midnight Friday, sparked doubts and conspiracy theories from many directions, given his long history of misstatements and falsehoods about the virus, and incomplete information about his own health.
“Honestly, when a man lies so damn much, am I wrong to imagine another cry of wolf for an October surprise?” asked TV writer/producer David Simon, who as the creator of “The Wire” knows a thing or two about duplicity. “That Trump is claiming a positive test, will present as asymptomatic, or claim himself cured with bleach, then dismiss COVID again as a Democratic hoax? I’m wrong, right?”
Trump supporter and conservative author Kurt Schlichter hinted that the news was intended to reboot the news cycle, which has been inundated with negative stories about the president, ranging from the New York Times report on his taxes and poor polling.
“I’m not saying that Donald Trump is pretending to have COVID to cause the left to freak out in a frenzy of murder wishes and to wash all the garbage stories off the front page, but I’m not saying I’m not saying that,” wrote Schlichter.
Supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges the president is secretly working to destroy a global pedophile operation run by Democrats and celebrities, were excited about Trump’s announcements. Adherents of Q believe that the coronavirus pandemic — which has killed more than 200,000 Americans — is a hoax and parsed Trump’s communications early Friday morning for clues. Many interpreted his note that he and first lady Melania Trump would get through their positive diagnoses “TOGETHER” actually meant “To Get Her,” meaning he would finally be arresting Hillary Clinton.
Others on the right found it strange that so many Republicans had been infected.
“Does anyone else find it odd that no prominent Democrats have had the virus but the list of Republicans goes on and on?” asked DeAnna Lorraine, a conservative YouTuber with nearly 400,000 Twitter followers who ran against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a congressional primary earlier this year, and received 1.8 percent of the vote.
According to polling, Republicans are less likely to say they wear masks than Democrats, and a number of GOP politicians at the local, state and federal level have boasted about their refusal to submit to face-covering recommendations or mandates.
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