Facing a barrage of fact-checks, criticism, and mockery, President Donald Trump and his defenders are trying to make excuses for his absurd and dangerous suggestion on Thursday that injecting people with disinfectants might help fight COVID-19.
To be 100 percent clear: There's no reason to think this would work, and it is an even potentially fatal idea. Experts across the board insist that household cleaners should not be used internally on humans.
Because this is an obvious fact, Trump and his supporters are desperate to find an excuse for his dangerous suggestion. And unfortunately for them, two of the excuses they've already offered are contradictory. To review, here's what Trump actually said:
And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out, in a minute. One minute. Is there a way we can do something like that? By injection, inside, or almost a cleaning, 'cause you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. You're going to have to use medical doctors, right? But it sounds interesting to me.
These remarks came after a discussion of a recent study on sunlight and disinfectants' abilities to kill the virus on surfaces, outside of the body. Before discussing disinfectants, Trump also preposterously speculated that light could somehow be used externally or internally on the human body to treat COVID-19, which Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, dismissed. Watch the remarks below:
After hearing presentation President Trump suggests irradiating people's bodies with UV light or injecting them with bleach or alcohol to deal with COVID19. pic.twitter.com/cohkLyyl9G
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 23, 2020
If you watch the remarks, there's really no ambiguity about what Trump is saying. He's trying to extrapolate from studies about effective methods of cleaning the virus in the environment to treating humans who are infected. It's a frankly childish understanding of medicine, but he presented it as a fascinating possibility — and on national TV, no less, where some vulnerable and susceptible viewers may actually take his claims seriously.
So how could one possibly defend these remarks? Breitbart, a far-right website that closely aligns itself with the president, took a widely mocked stab at offering an excuse in the form of "fact check":
CLAIM: President Donald Trump suggested injecting people with disinfectant to cure coronavirus.
VERDICT: False. Trump was speaking generally about new information about sunlight, heat, and disinfectant killing the virus.
This is not so. As the clip shows, Trump was talking about using this information as a possible basis for testing potential treatments of COVID-19.
In the most desperate section of this "fact check," writer Joel Pollak claimed that when Trump said the word "inject" he didn't really mean "inject," and it was unfair of critics to think he did:
Trump used the word "inject," but what he meant was using a process — which he left "medical doctors" to define — in which patients' lungs might be cleared of the virus, given new knowledge about its response to light and other factors.
The use of the word "other factors" here is particularly rich, because Trump talked about "injecting" directly after he brought up disinfectants specifically. That's what was so egregious and concerning.
In a slightly more plausible defense of Trump, Breitbart pointed out that the president appeared to walk his comments back later in the briefing:
When ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked Dr. Bryant about whether the president had proposed injecting a person with "bleach and isopropyl alcohol" later, Trump clarified that "It wouldn't be through injection," and that he was talking about "cleaning, sterilization of an area," and about applying the disinfectant to "a stationary object."
But he's the actual exchange this refers to, per the White House transcript:
[KARL] But I — just, can I ask about — the President mentioned the idea of cleaners, like bleach and isopropyl alcohol you mentioned. There's no scenario that that could be injected into a person, is there? I mean —
ACTING UNDER SECRETARY [BILL] BRYAN: No, I'm here to talk about the findings that we had in the study. We won't do that within that lab and our lab. So —
THE PRESIDENT: It wouldn't be through injection. We're talking about through almost a cleaning, sterilization of an area. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't work. But it certainly has a big effect if it's on a stationary object.
So here's what actually seems to have happened. Trump floated the idea of injecting people with disinfectants. Then, incredulous, a reporter asked Bryan, who actually knows what he's talking about, whether this could even be a possibility. Bryan knocks down the possibility that Trump floated directly, saying directly "no" and "We won't do that within that lab and our lab."
Then Trump, apparently realizing that others think this is an absurd idea, tries to backpedal the outrageously dangerous and simplistic idea that he had floated.
Now that Trump clearly knows that everyone is mocking and deriding him for this error, he's trying to make his own excuse. But instead of sticking with Breitbart's twisted interpretation that "inject" doesn't really mean "inject," Trump inow wants us to believe he was being sarcastic.
Asked about the injection remarks on Friday in the Oval Office, Trump said: "I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen."
Again, if you watch the remarks above, it's clear they weren't sarcastic. Later in Thursday's briefing, when a reporter criticized Trump for floating baseless rumors, the president defended himself by saying he was just sharing ideas. And even if he had been sarcastic, it's would still be dangerous to float such an idea during a briefing where people are trying to get information about the nation's crisis.