Another reporter asked the president if he felt it was appropriate to insult a reporter in that way during such an urgent time

By Adam Carlson
March 20, 2020 04:36 PM

President Donald Trump‘s temper flared during a coronavirus briefing on Friday in which he insulted a reporter who had asked, “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”

“I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” Trump told Peter Alexander, an NBC News White House correspondent. “That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question, and I think it is a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope and you’re doing sensationalism.”

Alexander, 43, had earlier asked about the president’s optimism around experimental uses of antimalarial drugs to treat the novel coronavirus, which has spread around the world and infected at least 15,000 Americans.

“Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?” Alexander asked Trump, 73, earlier in the press briefing at the White House.

Noting the opinion of the same government health experts joining Trump for the briefing, Alexander said, “There is no magic drug for coronavirus right now.”

“Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see,” the president said.

“I feel good about it, that’s all it is — just a feeling,” he said, sarcastically referring to Alexander as “smart guy.”

His voice grew sharper after Alexander asked another question.

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“What do you say to Americans who are scared …. Millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now, what do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”

“Let me just tell you something,” the president said to Alexander after adopting a scolding tone in response to his “nasty question.”

“That’s really bad reporting, and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism,” Trump said.

“You’re doing sensationalism and the same with NBC and Concast — I don’t call it Comcast, I call it ‘Concast,’ ” he said.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he told Alexander.

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NBC News’ Peter Alexander (left) and President Donald Trump
AL DRAGO/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa USA/

Later in the briefing, another reporter asked the president if he felt it was appropriate to denigrate a reporter in that way during such an urgent time.

“I do, because I think Peter is — I’ve dealt with Peter for a long time, and I think Peter is not a good journalist when it comes to fairness,” Trump said before reiterating his familiar complaints about news coverage that he thinks is too negative.

He has made criticizing the press a staple of his time in the White House, regularly referring to reporters as “the enemy of the people.”

“This is a time to come together but coming together is much harder when we have dishonest journalists,” he said Friday. “It’s a very important profession that you’re in, it’s a profession that I think is incredible, I cherish it, but when people are dishonest, they truly do hurt our country.”

For his part, Alexander wrote on Twitter that he had also asked Vice President Mike Pence the same question.

“Trump, to me: ‘I say, you’re a terrible reporter,’ ” Alexander tweeted.

“Pence, an hour later: ‘Don’t be afraid. Be vigilant.’ ”

President Donald Trump (right) argues with NBC News’ Peter Alexander during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House on Friday
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

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Appearing on NBC after the press briefing, Alexander said his question was intended as a ‘softball.’ ”

“I was trying to provide the president an opportunity to reassure the millions of Americans, members of my own family and my neighbors and my community and plenty of people sitting at home, this was his opportunity to do that, to provide a positive or uplifting message,” Alexander said.

Instead,” he continued, “you saw the president’s answer to that question right now. But it really does go to one of the fundamental concerns, Americans are looking for a sense of confidence in their leaders at this moment as many of them are glued to their TVs or stuck behind closed doors in their homes surrounded by only loved ones right now. I think it does sort of reveal a frustration, perhaps an anxiety of his political prospects, about a situation that is hard to keep in control as we witnessed it continue to spiral at this time.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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