Florida Senator Marco Rubio had a heated exchange with the media on Sunday after he criticized news outlets for their coverage of the coronavirus, specifically the recent news that the United States has passed China as the country with the most confirmed cases of the disease.
The U.S. passed Italy and China in the confirmed case count on Friday, with a current total on Johns Hopkins’ COVID-19 tracking survey of 136,800 compared to 97,689 in Italy and 82,122 in China. Rubio said on Twitter that “some in our media can’t contain their glee & delight” as they reported this news, suggesting without providing evidence that China may be withholding positive cases in official surveys.
“We have NO IDEA how many cases China really has but without any doubt its significantly more than why [sic] they admit to,” he tweeted.
However, medical officials have warned that the true number of coronavirus cases in many countries is not reflected in official counts simply because not enough tests have been performed to account for people who may be carrying the disease but are not displaying symptoms. This includes the U.S., where testing was minimal during the early stages of the pandemic and continues to be sporadic.
Rubio continues to push for the U.S. to adopt a hardline stance against the Asian country. As the coronavirus pandemic has deepened, he has accused President Xi Jinping of covering up the disease’s spread and even accusing China of holding undue influence over the World Health Organization (WHO).
The senator’s tweet prompted a wave of angry responses, including from former CNN contributor Roland S. Martin and reporters for several major newspapers.
“This is a trash take,” Martin tweeted. “Media colleagues at NBC News and CBS News have DIED due to Coronavirus. You are a liar and this tweet is atrocious. You continue to be a massive disappointment.”
“Every journalist I know is terrified about being laid off right now,” sports reporter Molly Knight wrote. “People are dying. You had the chance to remove Trump from office in January and looked the other way even though you know he’s corrupt and incompetent. Now look where we are.”
New York Times reporter Alastair Coote echoed Knight’s sentiments, noting that the pandemic has had just as much of a personal impact on those writing about it as anyone else.
“This anti-press attitude is getting very tiresome in a situation where journalists all over the country are losing their jobs and others are contracting and even dying from the virus,” he wrote. “To suggest any of this reporting is gleeful is insulting.”