Trump still prefers Fox News over expert advice

Early Returns
Bloomberg

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I highly recommend Greg Sargent's detailed look at how Fox News is damaging Donald Trump — because the president keeps watching it and believing what he sees. 

It's not just Fox News. Trump had managed to spend maybe two weeks sticking to the talking points that public-health experts, along with his own staff and allies, had urged him to follow — pushing masks and social distancing as the best weapons against a very dangerous pandemic. But on Monday night he was back to miracle cures, retweeting a series of wild (and, to be sure, false) claims about conspiracies to hide the success of his favorite snake oil. 

Sargent is right. Generally it's best to think of Republican-aligned media as a force within the party that manipulates Trump by flattering him and dominating his informational environment. To put it another way: Such outlets use flattery to win the president's attention, then fill his head with odd ideas. 

Effective presidents use the media, including the partisan press, as a useful check against groupthink and expert biases. Trump, as multiple sources have confirmed, ignores most of the expertise available from executive-branch departments and agencies and even from his own White House, then uses cable news as a primary information source, supplemented by calls to his friends. 

This has left the president misinformed on some of the most important facts about the pandemic, from the importance of masks to the spread of the virus to basic trends in public opinion. Trump was almost certainly swayed in April to ignore expert guidance on re-opening businesses because he mistook a handful of fringe anti-lockdown protesters for a mass movement, since that's how they were portrayed in Republican-aligned media. 

Trump, in this respect as in several others, has been a follower, not a leader. There's nothing wrong with being a follower — the art of political leadership, after all, has been called the ability to jump to the front of a parade at the right time. But mistaking a few cranks for a parade that the whole town has turned out for isn't leadership. It means that party-aligned media, not Trump, has become the main influencer in the Republican Party. 

1. Dan Drezner on locking in foreign policy after the Trump presidency.

2. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Michael R. Strain continues to offer solid suggestions to congressional Republicans on the pandemic relief and stimulus package.

3. Abby Livingston, Carla Astudillo and Valeria Olivares on continuing progress among Democrats in Texas. It's getting harder to be a skeptic (as I have been) of Democratic chances in the Lone Star State.

4. Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin with yet another case of Trump's lawlessness.

5. And Derek Thompson on "hygiene theater." Some of this is just the chaos that's going to happen when there are big unknowns, but after plenty of false starts experts now know a bit more about the virus — and the available evidence points to wearing masks and avoiding extended stops in indoor areas, not high-tech surface cleaning.

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