There is no greater asset to a salesman or a politician than an audience that wants to believe. If you want to believe, here’s what you can see: The president of the United States, at a podium, backed by a team of officials and experts, doing something — or at least saying something, at length, which in the visual language of TV reads as the same thing.
It is not only viewers at home who want to have faith. On March 17, when Mr. Trump struck a somber note after minimizing the virus for weeks, CNN’s Dana Bash said that he was being “the kind of leader that people need, at least in tone.”
A week later, he was at a Fox “virtual town hall” saying, “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu — we don’t turn the country off,” and announcing his urge to reopen the economy on Easter. (The host, Bill Hemmer, hosanna’ed that it would be “a great American resurrection.”)
And for Mr. Trump, the briefings allow him to turn his pandemic response from a serial narrative, in which he’s held accountable for his cumulative action or inaction over time, into an episodic production, in which all that matters is what happened in the latest installment.
Every episode, in this production, wipes the slate clean, like a sitcom restoring the status quo. All those comments about how the coronavirus is like the flu and about how the cases will soon go down to zero and about not wanting to receive infected cruise-ship passengers because “I like the numbers being where they are”? That’s last season.
What matters, as the briefings frame it, is the next thing, the new rhetoric, the latest drama. “Will the president be there?” asked CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, teasing the March 25 briefing. “Will Dr. Fauci be there?”