Over the weekend, The New York Times published a long piece detailing a series of failures by President Donald Trump to heed the advice of many in his administration in the early days of the coronavirus that it could have massive health and economic consequences unless the United States acted – and acted quickly.
And the President just can’t seem to get over it.
Since the Times published the story on April 11, Trump has sent three tweets about it – all insisting that the story is wrong and fake but without actually providing any evidence for what, specifically, the Times missed.
“The @nytimes story is a Fake, just like the ‘paper’ itself,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “I was criticized for moving too fast when I issued the China Ban, long before most others wanted to do so. @SecAzar told me nothing until later, and Peter Navarro memo was same as Ban (see his statements). Fake News!”
In his two-plus hour coronavirus task force briefing on Monday, Trump repeatedly returned to the Times report – seeking to rebut allegations in it, although again doing so with no specific evidence.
“And so the story in ‘The New York Times’ was a total fake,” Trump said at one point. “It’s a fake newspaper, and they write fake stories.” At another, he offered this: “But I just want to say, it’s – it’s very sad when people write false stories, like, in that case, I guess it was gotten mostly from The New York Times, which is a highly – I mean, if you had libel laws, they would have been out of business even before they will end up going out of business.”
So bothered by the Times piece was Trump that he had his White House staff make up a propaganda reel of people praising him for his handling of the coronavirus that he then showed to reporters during Monday’s press conference.
Even by Trumpian standards, the President’s reaction to this piece is way over the top. Why?
The answer lies in Trump’s deep personal relationship with the Times.
Remember that Trump is a New Yorker through and through – born and raised in the city. (Yes, he has changed his official residency to Florida, but he’s still a New York guy at heart.)
Trump grew up seeing the Times as the paper of record – and the official stamp that you had made it. You get your name in the New York Times, now you’re somebody in this town – and all that. While he was building his career as a developer – and, as importantly, as a man about town – Trump understood the power that the paper had to confer relevance on someone.
He regularly cited it – in his pre-political years – as a validator of his or his friends’ success. “Read a great interview with Donald Trump that appeared in The New York Times Magazine,” Trump tweeted in May 2009. “Such a nice article in the New York Times about a wonderful developer, Arthur Zeckendorf,” he tweeted in November 2013.
In fact, despite regularly attacking the Times as “fake news” and “failing,” Trump has even admitted how much he values the paper. He called it a “a great, great American jewel, world jewel” in a sit-down interview with the Times shortly after he was elected in November 2016.
The truth of the matter is that Trump cares desperately what the Times writes about him and thinks about him. For all of his bluster about canceling his subscription to the paper, the President makes it obvious on a near-daily basis how intimately familiar he is with the reporting and writing in the paper.
Trump is so angry and fixated about the Times coronavirus story not because it’s wrong (it isn’t) but because it was published by the one newspaper he has always cared about.