Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, on Wednesday asserted that “everybody” could see the coming effects of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic in early January.
“We’ve heard…that nobody could have seen this coming,” Scarborough said, while discussing President Trump’s Tuesday press conference warning that the death toll from the virus could reach 100,000 to 200,000. “The fact is, everybody saw this coming. Everybody saw this coming in early January.”
Scarborough himself seems to have first reported on the outbreak on January 24, when he and co-host Mika Brzezinski interviewed Morning Joe medical contributor Dave Campbell.
CORRECTION: That was the first mention on MSNBC. The first mention on Morning Joe was Jan. 24th, when an “expert” said Americans should worry about the flu, not the Coronavirus pic.twitter.com/aG0BjwHxKj
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) April 1, 2020
“We don’t need to be overly concerned, yet, in the United States, about the novel coronavirus,” Campbell said. “We do need to keep our eyes open for the seasonal flu.”
During a segment of Morning Joe on February 7, Scarborough and co-host Nick Confessore interviewed Dr. Vanessa Kerry of non-profit Seed Global Health, who warned that the U.S. was not prepared for a pandemic and that the country should “worry” about its trading supply-chain from China.
Representatives for NBC did not respond to National Review’s request for comment by the time of publication.
The majority of coronavirus coverage in prominent media outlets in January and February did not suggest an impending pandemic.
“Wang Linfa, an expert on emerging infectious diseases at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, said…he thought the virus was likely not spreading from humans to humans because health workers had not contracted the disease,” read the New York Times‘ first article on the coronavirus on January 6.
The World Health Organization itself said on January 14 that it had found “no clear evidence” of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus. (Taiwanese medical officials have since accused the WHO of not relaying the warnings of human-to-human transmission they delivered to the agency on December 31.)
Numerous media outlets also explicitly downplayed the threat from the coronavirus throughout January and February.
“Get a grippe, America. The flu is a much bigger threat than the coronavirus, for now,” read a headline from the Washington Post on February 1. “Relax! Coronavirus is less dangerous than the flu, says epidemic expert,” read the headline of a January 31 op-ed from CNN.
“Beware the Pandemic Panic,” a January 29 New York Times op-ed warned. “So far, the Wuhan coronavirus is not much more frightening than the outbreaks of other recent coronaviruses like SARS in 2003 or MERS in 2012. The new virus’s death toll has just exceeded 130; for context, according to the CDC, about 15 million Americans have been sickened by the seasonal flu so far in the 2019-2020 flu season, and 8,200 have died from it.”
Following criticism of his Wednesday remarks, Scarborough slammed his critics for focusing on his claim rather than criticizing the administration’s response.
“Trump hacks are furiously studying a cable news talk show host’s Twitter feed to see when I first tweeted about COVID-19,” the anchor wrote on Twitter. “That is when you know how desperate those hacks are to try and shift blame from a negligent and deadly record inside the White House.”
Scarborough also noted a report that intelligence officials had warned of a possible pandemic in January and February. Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” one U.S. official told the Washington Post for a March 20 article. “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”
Trump did in fact join much of the mainstream media in downplaying the threat, even after receiving several intelligence briefings warning that the virus could be extremely disruptive.
“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine,” Trump said in a CNBC interview in January. Trump attempted to downplay the outbreak through the end of February, adjusting his response to the pandemic as the stock market nosedived in early March.
Then-acting White House chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney also dismissed the possibility that the coronavirus could cause massive numbers of casualties while addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February.
“This is not Ebola. It’s not SARS. It’s not MERS,” Mulvaney said. “The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be the thing that brings down the president.” A VIP attendee at CPAC later tested positive for coronavirus, causing several Republican congressmen who met with the attendee to self-quarantine.