Was the CDC Director ‘Totally Misquoted’ on the Risk of a Second Coronavirus Wave?

Nope.

During the daily coronavirus task force press briefing Wednesday, President Trump claimed that CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield was “totally misquoted in the media on a statement about the fall season and the virus.” The quotes in question came from an interview of Redfield with the Washington Post. The Post reported Redfield’s comments this way: 

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he said.

Trump accused the Post and CNN, which used the Redfield quotes from the Post in a separate story, of inaccurate and misleading reporting. Trump claimed Redfield “was talking about the flu and corona coming together at the same time and corona could be just some little flare-ups that we'll take care of.” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany made similar claims Wednesday afternoon during a Fox News interview and an informal press briefing. Earlier in the day, President Trump had complained on Twitter that Redfield was “totally misquoted by fake news CNN.” 

Redfield did encourage people to get the flu shot during the interview, but it’s clear from the language he used in the interview—“the assault of the virus on our nation next winter”—that his increased concern about the flu is due to his desire to limit the strain put on hospitals, allowing them to focus on coronavirus cases. 

Redfield shared the Washington Post article on his Twitter feed without any objections about the framing of his interview.

Trump is on stronger ground in his claim that “The headline in the Washington Post was totally inaccurate. The statement wasn't bad in the Post, but the headline was ridiculous." The headline of the Post’s article reads: “CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating.” But in the portion of the interview published by the Post, Redfield merely said “there’s a possibility” that the second wave will be “even more difficult.” The headline isn’t “totally inaccurate” but it makes Redfield’s claim seem a stronger expression of certitude than his actual words.

Redfield’s interview with the Post is consistent with his past comments. On March 30, he told an NPR affiliate that the CDC was preparing for “another wave that we would anticipate in the late fall, early winter where there will still be a substantial portion of Americans that are susceptible.”

The Trump campaign sent a tweet Wednesday evening that contained a video of Redfield from the press briefing Wednesday, reasserting the claim that he was “misquoted.” While Redfield said it was important to clarify his meaning, he did not say that he was misquoted.

And what that video leaves out is what Redfield said about two and a half minutes later, when pressed by ABC’s Jonathan Karl:

“I am accurately quoted in the Washington Post.

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Photograph by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.