On Friday, ABC’s Good Morning America could not resist gloating over President Trump being diagnosed with COVID-19, claiming the bill had come due for his “dangerous gamble” on the virus. In addition, correspondents crassly plotted political strategy and gleefully declared that his “diagnosis is a crushing blow to his effort to convince Americans that the worst of the pandemic is behind them.”
“And what does this do to the campaign?,” fill-in co-host Cecilia Vega immediately asked at the top of the broadcast. She then wasted no time launching attacks: “...all of this comes at a time when the President has faced repeated questions about whether he and the White House have been doing enough to protect against the virus, and now, just how truthful he has been about the seriousness of this pandemic.”
In a report that followed, chief White House correspondent Jon Karl was eager to play a game of we-told-you-so: “The White House has taken precious few precautions to avoid the virus, the President and his top advisers are almost never seen wearing masks. During the debate, President Trump even mocked Joe Biden for frequently using face coverings in public.”
Noting that the President was “desperate to close the wide gap in the polls between Biden and himself,” Karl smugly proclaimed that Trump was “now sidelined from the campaign trail during this critical closing stretch.” The reporter then rushed past concerns over the President’s well-being as he focused on campaign fallout: “Beyond his health, the President’s diagnosis is a crushing blow to his effort to convince Americans that the worst of the pandemic is behind them.”
Minutes later, congressional correspondent Mary Bruce echoed the same sentiment:
This effectively brings the 2020 campaign trail as we know it to a screeching halt. The President has been out there campaigning nonstop and now he is grounded. He had an event planned for today in Florida, that has been canceled. He had several other rallies on the books, it is hard to see how they go forward. The President is about to lose, likely, some very critical time in this final stretch of the campaign and it is also a huge blow to his central message on the virus. He has been out there arguing that the country’s rounding the corner, as he says, on this pandemic and that he can tackle this crisis. The fact that he now has a positive result completely undercuts his message on the virus.
As if it wasn’t clear enough that the ABC morning show was trying to exploit the President’s illness, in the 7:30 a.m. ET half hour, co-host George Stephanopoulos scolded: “This comes after months of the President downplaying the pandemic to the American people....And, of course, the President has attended crowded rallies, rarely seen in public wearing a mask....Often heard mocking Joe Biden for wearing one...”
Correspondent Tom Llamas then unleashed a torrent of attacks:
All of this of course happening during an election year. But this morning, the President is learning in the worst possible way you can’t argue your way out of this pandemic. The President’s positive test comes after months of a dangerous gamble – downplaying COVID-19, flouting public health regulations, and minimizing the dangers of the virus....The President has also frequently criticized his own scientists for recommendations on masks. And just three days ago, attacked opponent Joe Biden for regularly wearing one.
Only at the end of the four-minute hit piece did Llamas provide this afterthought: “There is nothing positive about this development and everyone should be wishing the President and First Lady a speedy recovery.” Viewers would have been hard pressed to sense that attitude throughout the show’s nasty coverage.
Llamas of course took one more opportunity to lecture: “But if anything, it could serve as a wake-up call to anyone who hasn’t taken the pandemic seriously, that if the President of the United States can get it, anyone can.”
All three networks rushed to wildly speculate on invoking the 25th Amendment in case Trump became “seriously ill.” They almost seemed excited at the prospect.
One brief moment of decency on GMA came earlier in the program, when co-host Michael Strahan attempted to get medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton to engage in political rhetoric: “And Dr. Ashton, we know COVID-19 has been politicized, from social distancing to wearing masks. The President himself, he has gone back and forth on the issue. So what was your reaction when you first heard the President was diagnosed with COVID?” To her credit, Ashton shut that down immediately:
Well, Michael, my reaction was as a practicing physician, is that I state firmly in the medical lane. Of course there’s political and social behaviors that warrant discussion, but the analogy here is that when a person who smokes gets diagnosed with lung cancer in medicine, we don’t blame the patient. So right now it’s about staying in the present, checking vital signs, making sure the disease does not worsen and working to alter behavior down the road in the future.
At least one person on the network was actually concerned with the people’s health rather than how the news played politically.
Here is a full transcript of the October 2 report from Llamas:
7:42 AM ET
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Back now with more on the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis. This comes after months of the President downplaying the pandemic to the American people, claiming he didn’t want to cause more panic. And, of course, the President has attended crowded rallies, rarely seen in public wearing a mask, despite recommendations from health officials. Often heard mocking Joe Biden for wearing one, as late as the last debate on Tuesday night. Our chief national affairs correspondent Tom Llamas has that side of the story. Good morning, Tom.
TOM LLAMAS: George, good morning to you. As you mentioned, the President has downplayed this pandemic, he’s admitted to that. His logic was he wanted to stay positive to help America get through this highly infectious and deadly disease. All of this of course happening during an election year. But this morning, the President is learning in the worst possible way you can’t argue your way out of this pandemic.
The President’s positive test comes after months of a dangerous gamble – downplaying COVID-19, flouting public health regulations, and minimizing the dangers of the virus.
DONALD TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.
BOB WOODWARD: Yes.
TRUMP: Because I don’t want to create a panic.
LLAMAS: The President has also frequently criticized his own scientists for recommendations on masks. And just three days ago, attacked opponent Joe Biden for regularly wearing one.
TRUMP: I don’t have – I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.
LLAMAS: Despite the science, the President admitting when it comes to wearing a mask, he just doesn’t want to do it.
TRUMP: I just don’t want to wear one myself. It’s a recommendation, they recommend it. I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing – I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, king, queens, I don’t know, somehow I don’t see it for myself. I just – I just don’t. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but this will pass.
LLAMAS: Even mocking reporters wearing them in briefings.
TRUMP [MAY 26]: Take that off, please. Just – you can take it off. How many feet are you away?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I’ll speak a lot louder.
TRUMP: Well, if you don’t take it off you’re very muffled.
LLAMAS: In fact, it was July months after the CDC revised guidance on wearing masks before the President ever donned one in public. First appearing with a mask at Walter Reed hospital to meet with veterans.
TRUMP: I can name Kung Flu. I can name 19 different versions of names.
LLAMAS: The President held his first indoor rally in Tulsa in late June, where masks were not required and most chose not to wear one. Including one-time GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who died from complications of COVID-19, though it’s unknown where or when he contracted the virus. The president has held 25 more rallies since.
TRUMP: What are they gonna do? You know, someday we’re not going to be doing this anymore. What are they going to do without Trump?
LLAMAS: Holding crowded events at a church in Arizona and this factory in Nevada, prompting fines from the state. Insisting he’s safe in front of his supporters, though backstage –
TRUMP: You’re actually sitting too close. You should really – we should probably get rid of about another 75, 80% of you. I’ll have just two or three I like in the room.
LLAMAS: Even going head-to-head with the Governor of North Carolina after state regulations forced the RNC to drastically change its plans on the convention.
TRUMP: I think your governor has to let this state open up.
LLAMAS: Eventually the President delivering his convention speech from the White House lawn in front of a crowd of 1,500, many without masks, sitting shoulder to shoulder.
There is nothing positive about this development and everyone should be wishing the President and First Lady a speedy recovery. But if anything, it could serve as a wake-up call to anyone who hasn’t taken the pandemic seriously, that if the President of the United States can get it, anyone can. George?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Tom Llamas, thanks very much.