US President Donald Trump has gone on a tirade against the media after The New York Times reported he failed to heed the advice of experts early in the US response to the coronavirus outbreak.
During his daily press briefing on Tuesday (AEST), Mr Trump presented a timeline touting his response to the pandemic, which included cable news clippings.
CNN reported the president had a “meltdown”, calling The New York Times report a “total fake” and set out to present a timeline of his travel restrictions on China and Europe as evidence of a rapid response to contain the virus.
The network halted its live coverage of the briefing when Mr Trump began playing a compilation of news clips portraying his handling of the pandemic in a positive light.
“To play a propaganda video at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room is a new – you can insert your favourite word here in this administration,” CNN anchor John King said.
CNN also aired a chyron saying, “Angry Trump turns briefing into propaganda session”.
Rival MSNBC also cut its coverage of Mr Trump’s briefing. It reported former NY Times executive editor Howell Raines called the video “one of the most astonishing acts of disinformation from the White House since the Vietnam era”.
But Mr Trump was undeterred.
“Someday hopefully in five years when I’m not here, those papers are all going out of business because nobody’s gong to want to read them,” he said.
Mr Trump’s tirade was sparked by speculation he had medical expert Dr Anthony Fauci in his sights after Dr Fauci said in that earlier mitigation efforts against the coronavirus outbreak could have saved more lives.
At the daily briefing – which often last more than 90 minutes – Mr Trump said he and Dr Fauci had been on the same page “from the beginning” about the virus and he did not intend to fire him.
Mr Trump, who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus in its initial stages, has been angered by media coverage suggesting he did not do enough to prevent its spread.
- Related: Trump retweets calls to fire Fauci
On Sunday, Mr Trump retweeted a call to fire Dr Fauci after the top US expert on infectious diseases said lives could have been saved if the country had shut down sooner during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
At Tuesday’s briefing, Dr Fauci said he was answering a hypothetical question in the interview, and made clear that Mr Trump had listened to him when he recommended mitigation efforts that included strict social distancing measures.
“I think he’s a wonderful guy,” Mr Trump said of Dr Fauci, while adding that not everyone was happy with him.
The retweet fuelled speculation Mr Trump was running out of patience with the popular scientist and could fire him, prompting a White House denial.
Dr Fauci has assumed national prominence as a leader in the fight against the coronavirus.
He has contradicted or corrected Mr Trump on scientific matters during the public health crisis, including whether the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is effective against the virus.
Last week, at another White House coronavirus briefing, Mr Trump prevented Dr Fauci from answering a question about hydroxychloroquine.
Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked on CNN about a New York Times report documenting early warnings issued to the White House about the novel coronavirus.
The scientist acknowledged shutting down the country sooner could have saved lives, but cautioned that several factors were involved.
“Obviously, it would have been nice if we had a better head start, but I don’t think you could say that we are where we are right now because of one factor,” Dr Fauci said. “It’s very complicated.”
Already a target of the far right for his contradictions of Mr Trump, Dr Fauci drew more opprobrium after the interview.
Mr Trump also denounced the Times story in tweets on Sunday, calling it “Fake.”
Dr Fauci, 79, has led the federal infectious disease agency since 1984 under Republican and Democratic presidents. Republican George W Bush honoured him with the presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.
Some polls during the public health crisis have shown Americans trust him more than Mr Trump.