Only last week, we learned that one Donald J. Trump was, in effect, the Typhoid Mary of the COVID-19 epidemic during the 2020 campaign. What’s more, unlike the original, an Irish-born cook who unknowingly infected whole families in early 20th-century New York, Trump tested positive for COVID but didn’t bother to warn any of the scores of individuals he came into close contact with before himself being hospitalized.
So was Trump deliberately trying to infect Joe Biden when he arrived, visibly ill, at their first presidential debate? Nobody knows. You will remember that the entire Trump family showed up unmasked in defiance of agreed-upon rules. Five of the six persons who helped Trump rehearse came down with COVID, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who almost died, and who blames Trump for infecting him.
Elsewhere, a 38-page PowerPoint presentation detailing a crackpot scheme to steal the 2020 presidential election was inadvertently turned over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who subsequently developed an acute case of “executive privilege” lockjaw. The idea was that Trump would declare a national emergency and seize voting machines on the grounds that Chinese hackers had corrupted them -- for which there’s not a particle of evidence.
And what was the big political news story of the week, according to our esteemed Washington press corps? Why, the rising cost of milk and gasoline, of course. Last week’s announcement of a 6.8% increase in inflation over the past year provoked semi-hysterical coverage reinforcing the media narrative that terrible economic conditions had the Biden White House reeling. On her nightly broadcast, CNN’s Erin Burnett was practically feral -- talking over guests and treating their explanations with scorn. How could anybody deny that runaway inflation was crushing American families?
On his invaluable PRESS RUN website, media critic Eric Boehlert details what he characterizes as a Washington press corps “married to a Biden Doomsday storyline.” Dan Kennedy at Media Nation faults what he calls “the media’s primordial need for balance -- for treating Democrats and Republicans as if they are both legitimate actors even though the Democrats, for all their flaws, continue to act as a normal political party while the Republicans have descended into authoritarianism.”
We have seen this movie before: an allegedly even-handed establishment press succumbing to feverish gang coverage of stories that never add up. Remember Hillary’s emails? The great Whitewater scandal of legend and song? The 2000 “War on Gore”? Selling Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for invading Iraq would also qualify.
CNN recently found a family it portrayed as driven to near penury by rising milk prices. Supposedly, the cost of a gallon had risen from $1.99 to $2.79 where they live. That’s a 40% increase. According to the Consumer Price Index, milk has risen 4% over the past year -- noticeable, but 10% of what CNN reported.
This too: The family reported buying 12 gallons a week -- enough to bottle-feed several calves. (Granted, it was a large family.) Even so, MarketWatch documented that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, milk hasn’t cost less than $2 a gallon since the turn of the century.
CNN’s story had no basis in reality.
Not to be outdone, The New York Times profiled a man in Toms River, New Jersey, whining about the rising cost of gasoline for -- get this -- his Cadillac Escalade: “Aldo McCoy, who owns an auto repair shop in Toms River ... recalled recently filling his 2003 Cadillac Escalade and seeing the price go above $100, where it used to be $45.”
For the record, a Cadillac Escalade comes advertised as a “full-sized luxury SUV.” Slightly smaller than a school bus, an Escalade retails for around $80,000. So I suspect that McCoy may be laying it on a bit thick when he reports working 15 hours overtime every week to gas up the behemoth.
It’s also true, as the Times reports, that the notoriously volatile price of gasoline “is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA.” Also that it’s dropping fast, as oil-producing nations ramp up production. Me, I paid $2.79 the other day. Your mileage may differ.
So here’s another New York Times story dated April 12, 2020 -- ancient history, 20 whole months ago -- detailing an “unprecedented” agreement between the Trump administration and its pals in Saudi Arabia and Russia for “the largest [oil] production cut ever negotiated” for the express purpose of driving up prices and increasing energy industry profits.
“Oil prices spike by a record 25% as Trump talks up huge production cuts,” was how CNN headlined the story. Like most Trump schemes, it failed due to the pandemic. Today, however, OPEC is sharply increasing production. Prices are dropping.
But until they do, it’s all Joe Biden’s fault.
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected])