When President Trump picked someone to do his first interview on camera since testing positive for the coronavirus, he made the safest choice: Dr. Marc Siegel, a doctor and a personality from Fox News who has criticized Democratic governors for closing schools and businesses to fight the pandemic, stated that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s foremost infectious disease expert, “is there to serve the President”.
Dr. Siegel did not disappoint. In an interview that aired on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Friday, he asked about the president’s symptoms (“I had no trouble breathing,”
Then Dr. Seal a friendly suggestion on how Mr. Trump might get creative for his next meeting with his Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden Jr. “How would you feel about a debate out in Miami Beach?” said the doctor.
At the most politically and physically vulnerable point of his presidency, Mr Trump has withdrawn to his safe space: conservative media programs where he can count on warm, ego-boosting chats with supporters like Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.
In this cozy setting – his primary way of communicating with the public while avoiding interviews with most other journalists – Mr Trump has only himself to fear: there is virtually no risk of encountering a persistent questioner who turns an unpleasant one Subject presses or so. It will appear just as defensive or unruly as it was during the first presidential debate.
But his decision to remain in a right-wing echo chamber has threatened to exclude Mr Trump from a much larger – and important to the election – audience of potential voters and political independents whose votes he needs to justly win the election over three Weeks.
The president’s refusal to participate in the now-canceled second presidential debate because organizers moved it to a purely virtual event meant moving away from a television audience of nearly 70 million viewers, baffling political media experts. And while Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Hannity appeal to the largest audiences in their respective fields, their programs are nowhere near the reach of a debate broadcast simultaneously on a dozen radio and cable networks.
“Trump should want 10 more debates now,” said Alex Conant, a Republican adviser who oversaw communications strategy for Senate and presidential campaigns, in an interview.
With Mr. Trump lagging behind in almost every battlefield nation poll, Mr. Conant said, the president’s request that the debate take place on his terms was “a very emotional response rather than a strategic one.”
Mr. Conant noted how successful Mr. Trump was in 2016, effectively flooding the radio, print and online news media with his attacks on Hillary Clinton, and using this year’s debates to recover from the disclosures he once made with “Access Hollywood” that he could grab the genitals of women with impunity.
“It turned out to be an effective strategy for him because he could say in any media company in the country that Hillary Clinton was a crook,” said Conant. Well, “because he doesn’t have such a consistent message about Joe Biden or a record to defend, he hasn’t been able to.”
Mr. Trump’s approach to campaign media reflects his electoral strategy and focuses primarily on one constituency: his base.
His two-hour session on Friday with Mr. Limbaugh began with host Lee Greenwoods playing “God Bless the USA” – a staple at Trump rallies – and a band of people singing, “We love you! We love you!”
Mr. Limbaugh described the interview as “the largest virtual rally in radio history”. But the gig ultimately turned out to be more of a hybrid, at times cheering, conversation as Mr. Limbaugh repeatedly tried to reassure his audience (and guest) that Mr. Trump was the best man for the White House, and at part recited a venting session as President Variety of known complaints.
Mr. Trump rattled off a long list of people he said had undermined him, including Mr. Biden, Mrs. Clinton, and former FBI director James Comey. He complained that he was not being recognized for a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, which he recorded in the mainstream media. “You don’t cover good things with me,” he grumbled.
According to Michael Harrison, editor of talk radio trade magazine Talkers, it was a marathon performance that could at best have drawn around 10 to 15 million listeners – large by radio standards, but still a fraction of the television audience watching presidential debates.
His appearance on Thursday at 8 a.m. on Ms. Bartiromo’s Fox Business Show, which the White House had arranged the night before, drew around 376,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.
On cherry picking platforms, where he is protected from uncomfortable questions, Mr Trump could fall into a political trap that he himself created.
The uncertainty about his health – he and his doctors have refused to reveal details about how sick he is with the coronavirus – can seem more blatant when even a Trump confidante like Mr. Hannity can’t get a straight answer from him. On Thursday, Mr Hannity asked the president twice if he had tested negative for the virus in the past few days. Mr. Trump ignored the question both times. “I know when I’m in good shape or not,” said the president.
Five million people watched the Hannity interview and repeatedly heard the President pause to cough and clear his throat.
And while right-wing hosts often try to lead Mr. Trump on friendly subjects, the president can sometimes overlook his pointers.
This happened several times during his appearance on Mr Limbaugh, to whom Mr Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom that year. The host asked the president to refute Mr Biden’s claims that he would take health insurance off Americans with pre-existing medical conditions.
Mr Trump responded by calling his opponents’ liars and then addressing one of the most damaging stories of his presidency: an article in the Atlantic – which he has vigorously denied – citing unnamed sources that the president called Americans who did it were killed in the fight “losers”.
Mr. Limbaugh let this digression go on for a while before interrupting it. “But there is still this confusion about the pre-existing conditions,” he said, urging the president to get back on track.
During his time at the White House, Mr. Trump has given more than 100 interviews for Fox News programs and only a handful for other major networks, according to a tally by Mark Knoller, a CBS correspondent and statistician for the White House Press Corps.
And while the White House on Thursday with NBC News discussed a possible town hall-style event on television with the president, that appearance could prove to be an exception. Another town hall is in the works, hosted by Eric Bolling of Sinclair News, the right-wing broadcaster that monitors local news networks in key markets in the country. Mr Bolling said Friday the event will still take place in Pennsylvania on October 19th.
“I was in regular contact with the campaign and the White House. They both assured me it was going to happen, ”said Mr Bolling.
In his case, Mr Bolling said the president would expand his audience because Sinclair programs shows on mainstream networks across the country – albeit with an interviewer the president knows and is familiar with. “I think it’s an important show of strength for undecided voters just days after the election,” said Bolling of the president’s participation.
When Mr. Trump appears in less controlled media environments, he runs the risk that his illness won’t defeat him.
The interview with Dr. Siegel on Fox News, his first on camera since his illness but still not broadcast live, should show his progress. But there were subtle memories of the disease that infected Mr. Trump and many in the White House.
Fox News did not send a camera crew to the White House for health reasons. Instead, Dr. Seal his questions in a New York studio while Mr. Trump sat in front of a remote-controlled camera. The performance was recorded in the afternoon and edited before the broadcast at 8 p.m.
Dr. Siegel practices internal medicine at NYU Langone Health in Manhattan. But the medical establishment took a step to distance itself from the doctor’s televised efforts to remotely assess Mr Trump.
“In his role as senior medical correspondent for Fox News, Dr. Siegel gives his personal opinion,” a Langone spokesman said Friday. “His comments do not reflect the opinion of NYU Langone Health.”