Washing your mouth out with soap

More fake news, this time invented by our most trusted news organisations as they wilfully distort and mis-report a scene played out in the White House briefing room by President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Under Secretary Bill Bryan, leader of the Science and Technology Directorate at the US Department of Homeland Security. The reporting today is a reconstruction of reality which is clearly designed to cast President Trump as a dangerous imbecile who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a national crisis, and given prominence in the news to the extent that the actual facts were obliterated.

Of course, in all matters coronavirus we should listen to the scientists and definitely not drink disinfectant. In fact it doesn’t really need a scientist to tell us that, does it? Surely that’s a given, and quite clearly the President dropped a massive bollock when he stepped into this territory. So in this rant I’m not referring to the pensioner who should be self-isolating for many reasons at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Rather, I’m making a comment on our press.

‘Trump’s wild coronavirus claims prompt disbelief’ screams the Guardian, in a headline no-one can possibly mistake for one of its characteristic slepping errors. Now I’m entitled to think, especially as a paying supporter of this reasonably sophisticated compendium of millennial bias, that there would be a fact behind this headline. Not so. Trump made no claim.

So let me do my tiny bit to put matters straight with some counter-facts* to the inevitable anti-Trump reporting that will dominate the headlines for the next week and thereby divert our attention from real stories – for example the crashing of the economy, which is getting nowhere near the attention it deserves because the media simply can’t make it up.

Bill Bryan runs a group of highly qualified scientists with the facilities of some of the best laboratories in the world at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center. He presented to the President the findings of research in which the effects of UV light on airborne and surface borne viruses were demonstrated. Lots of science, but Bill managed to put it across in a fairly easily understood way, describing a few basic trends which the Center believes are important. He described how simply being exposed to sunlight appears to have a destructive effect on the virus.

Bill pointed out that the Center was also testing effects on the virus of readily available disinfectants, for example bleach and isopropyl alcohol, and crucially referred to work to integrate the findings into practical applications to mitigate exposure and transmission.

At which point, in thanking the Acting Under Secretary for his briefing, the President related some previous thinking that he gone through with Bill about whether or not it made sense to hit people with UV light, or just very powerful lights. (We used to call this ‘lateral thinking’, and whole libraries of books were written about it by management consultants.) And then clearly stating that this needed some medical input, he surmised with a question whether the disinfectant knowledge being gained by the Center might have some application through an injection or ‘almost a cleaning’. He simply did not make any wild coronavirus claims, and no amount of being screamed at by the Grauniad will make it so, even though it makes a good story and even though there are many good reasons to disagree with the Donald.

This is actually what the President did: he invited an expert to his briefing, allowed the expert to present some facts and then did some lateral thinking whilst acknowledging he wasn’t the expert. I have no doubt that the vast majority of UK news consumers have no idea what that expert said, whilst plenty of reporters had the opportunity to take him up on this at his briefing, but clearly didn’t.

*Source: actual transcript of the actual briefing at the actual White House.

2 thoughts on “Washing your mouth out with soap”

  1. Steve you’ve written very articulately exactly what I’ve been thinking. Never let the truth get in the way of a good Trump headline.

  2. I’ll check the facts out with my inside mole at PHE. In the meantime, said mole’s derisory comment on people stock piling antibacterial handwash at the start of this pandemic:”It’s a friggin virus not bacteria! Wash your hands with soap, morons.”

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