CNN Slammed Trump for His COVID Death Rate Estimate - But 4 Weeks Later They're Making the Same Claim

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A study published Monday from The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a medical journal in the United Kingdom, found that the death rate for COVID-19 was significantly less than the 3.4 percent originally predicted by the World Health Organization.

The news wasn’t particularly surprising. The Lancet study put the death rate at 0.66 percent — higher than the seasonal flu, which kills 0.1 percent of people who get it, but still a lot less than what we had feared.

The writing had been on the wall for weeks, as various studies had concluded that when mild or asymptomatic cases of coronavirus infection were taken into account, the death rate could be well south of 1 percent. This is cold comfort, given the fact the United States is expecting upward of 100,000 deaths, but it gives us a better idea of what we’re dealing with.

On Tuesday, CNN reported on it — and why wouldn’t they?

“Coronavirus death rate is lower than previously reported, study says, but it’s still deadlier than seasonal flu,” the article by Arman Azad was titled. I shan’t go into the particulars here, but suffice it to say that the title basically says what you need to know.

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This is interesting inasmuch as it stood in stark contrast to what Brian Stelter — professional fulminator and/or host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” — was saying at the beginning of the month, when he slammed President Donald Trump for even suggesting that the death rate might come in under the WHO estimate.

Stelter’s rant — titled “Trump makes spurious claims about coronavirus in phone call with Sean Hannity” — came after Trump phoned into Sean Hannity’s show on March 4 and said he thought “3.4 percent is really a false number.”

“Now, this is just my hunch,” Trump said, “based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this, and it’s very mild — they’ll get better very rapidly, they don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor — you never hear about those people, so you can’t put them down in the category of the overall population, in terms of this corona flu, and/or virus. So you just can’t do that.”

“If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better, just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work, some of them go to work, but they get better, and then when you do have a death, like you’ve had in the state of Washington, like you had one in California, I believe you had one in New York.

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“You know,” he continued, “all of a sudden it seems like 3 or 4 percent, which is a very high number, as opposed to a fraction of 1 percent. But again, they don’t know about the easy cases because the easy cases don’t go to the hospital. They don’t report to doctors or the hospital in many cases. So I think that that number is very high. I think the number, personally, I would say the number is way under 1 percent.”

Stelter’s screed after the appearance was meant to give the impression of a man shaking with vehement rage in front of his MacBook.

“I hesitate to even print the United States president’s words here, because they’re so at odds with what health experts are saying,” Stelter wrote. “But the president’s statements to Sean Hannity are significant because millions of people were watching live.”

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Stelter went on to say that “Hannity televised Trump’s irresponsible ‘hunch’ to the world” and was yet another person to spread the lie that Trump was “discarding his own administration’s advice to stay home if you’re feeling sick.” (He very clearly said that people were going to work without knowing they had coronavirus, not that people should go to work if they didn’t know they had coronavirus; if you heard something different, you wanted to hear something different.)

It’s been a long month, I know. What we know about coronavirus has significantly changed over the past four weeks. I don’t think there’s anyone covering this or writing about it that didn’t have their preconceptions changed.

That said, there’s a certain consistency to the Stelterian worldview. It’s difficult to take anyone seriously if they view President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus with unmixed delight. Those who view it with unmixed rage, however, should be similarly discounted — and that’s pretty much what Stelter has done since the moment the current president took office.

Here’s a recent set of Stelter headlines which require no further context from the article itself to tell you where this guy’s head is at right now:

April 1: “Journalists challenge Trump’s ‘revisionist history’ regarding coronavirus response.”

March 30: “Trump is self-isolating at his safe space: Fox News.”

March 30: “As coronavirus death toll rises, Trump focuses on a different set of numbers: TV ratings.”

March 25: “How the Fox News presidency has politicized a national health crisis.”

Politicizing a health crisis, completely unlike what’s going on at CNN.

So the facts may change, but the Stelterian outlook never does. All right, you’re saying, but can you hold Stelter and CNN accountable for what they said when the death rate was, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, a known unknown?

Yes. The problem with Stelter’s original attack was a question of asymmetric information. Bluntly put: The president knew more about the virus than he did.

I know, this probably comes as a shock to Stelter, a man who seems to view the president as an adult infant with a television tuned to Fox News and a cell phone with the Twitter app permanently open.

However, Stelter kept sticking on the fact that Trump said the word “hunch” What he probably should have looked harder at was the part where Trump said this was “based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this.”

Not the most elegant language, I admit, but this was something the president was being briefed on.

When this is all done, I would be surprised to find out he didn’t have some idea of the limits of testing as well as the limits of the WHO’s model.

There’s also the area of common sense: If testing is limited and there’s a cohort of people who have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, it only goes to reason that the WHO’s 3.4 percent number was too high. This is just common sense.

As for why Trump said what he did on “Hannity,” I have to admit that I don’t know the chain of events that led to it. It’s basically an a priori hunch.

Then again, what Brian Stelter had was a hunch, too. It turned out to be wrong.

A little less than four weeks later, his network published a story that proved Trump’s hunch was correct.

I’m just letting you know, since I don’t think you’re going to hear about it on “Reliable Sources” anytime soon.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal for four years.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal for four years. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture