The promised “medical evaluation” by Fox’s Dr. Marc Siegel of Donald Trump was really a series of softball questions without an effort to ascertain the actual state of Trump’s health, not even when Trump made such muddy claims as having “pretty much” come off all medication.
The fact that Trump is probably not the amazing specimen of rejuvenation he claims was indicated in Tucker Carlson’s introduction, when he told viewers, “Normally, we'd send our own camera crew into the White House to interview the president, but because his diagnosis was just a week ago, we had to rely on the White House camera team for that interview.”
Or to put it another way, Fox didn't think it safe enough to have its camera crew near Trump.
Siegel was from a remote location, of course. He tried to have it both ways by announcing he was not conducting an official tele-visit but also announcing that he was acting as a doctor:
SIEGEL: President Trump, welcome. This is not officially a tele-visit, though as you probably, realize, I've done hundreds, but I hope you'll indulge me and let you be the patient, and I'll be the doctor here and I promise you no copay.
Siegel went through a series of questions bound to elicit unenlightening answers, such as “How are you feeling now?” as if we didn’t all know that Trump would start boasting.
Sure enough, Trump said, “I feel really, really strong. And a lot of people don't feel that way sometimes for a while afterwards, but very good.”
Trump said about his symptoms that sent him to the hospital last week, “I just didn't feel strong. I didn't feel really strong” and then dropped this probable lie. “I didn't have a problem with breathing, which a lot of people seem to have.”
In fact, Trump’s physician said he had been on supplemental oxygen, which strongly suggests otherwise.
A real doctor acting as a doctor rather than, say, a Trump propagandist, would have asked about the oxygen, don't you think? Not Siegel. He went on to ask, “When you were in the hospital, what was bothering you the most?” Also, “Were you scared, were you frightened?”
A medical degree is hardly needed to come up with those kinds of questions. Nor would the answers provide the kind of information a public wants to know about a president with coronavirus. But Siegel let them take the place of “when was the last time you tested negative” and a real attempt to find out what Trump’s lung scan showed.
You may recall that Trump’s physician evaded questions about the results of Trump’s lung scan. And Siegel did ask what Trump’s CAT scan showed. But Trump replied vaguely, “It tested good. Initially, I think they had some congestion in there., But it tested ultimately, it tested good. And with each day, it got better, and I think that's why they wanted me to stay, frankly.” The video ended there and Carlson went to a break. If there was any follow up by Siegel, we never saw it.
In the next segment, Trump went on and on about how he had not put the Secret Service in any danger with his joyride stunt. There was neither objection nor validation from Siegel.
Then Siegel asked about Trump’s medications.
SIEGEL: What are you taking right now as of today?
TRUMP: I think really nothing. We pretty much finished, and now we'll see how things go. But pretty much nothing.
We had our final doses of just about everything. Actually, the original transfusion that's supposed to last for about four months, you know, the antibodies. And I think you're supposed to be protected anywhere from two to four months and maybe longer than that. I don't know.
“Pretty much nothing” and “really nothing” does not mean “nothing.” But Siegel let those responses sit as if they did.
Siegel got another suspiciously unclear answer when he asked Trump if he has been retested for coronavirus “today.”
Trump replied, "I have been retested and I haven't even found out numbers or anything yet, but I've been retested and I know I'm at either the bottom of the scale or free."
According to the Mayo Clinic, one either tests positive or negative. Like a pregnancy test, there is no "just a little." Furthermore, Trump just contradicted himself saying first he hasn’t “found out … anything yet” and then saying he’s either almost free or completely free of COVID. UPDATE: There is a test that measures the viral load that was referenced in Trump's physician's report tonight. How trustworthy it may be is another matter. See the addendum below.
Siegel did not follow up.
It’s not surprising that Fox’s “medical evaluation” was merely a friendly platform for Trump to make his latest pitch, in this case a miracle coronavirus recovery and a promise to send the miracle drugs "free of charge, including seniors, of course, but we're going to send it to everybody.”
But here, Siegel and Fox gave the interview the undeserved stamp of medical legitimacy.
You can watch the full interview below, from the October 9, 2020 Tucker Carlson Tonight.
10/10/20 Update: From The New York Times:
“This evening I am happy to report that in addition to the president meeting CDC criteria for the safe discontinuation of isolation, this morning’s COVID PCR sample demonstrates, by currently recognized standards, he is no longer considered a transmission risk to others,” Dr. Conley [Trump's doctor] wrote. “Now at day 10 from symptoms onset, fever-free for well over 24 hours and all symptoms improved, the assortment of advanced diagnostic tests obtained reveal there is no longer evidence of actively replicating virus. In addition, sequential testing throughout his illness has demonstrated decreasing viral loads that correlate with increasing cycle threshold times, as well as decreasing and now undetectable subgenomic mRNA.”
Several experts expressed skepticism at the wording describing Mr. Trump’s diagnostic tests, which did not explicitly categorize the president as “negative” for the coronavirus. P.C.R., a laboratory technique that detects the virus’s genetic material, can give researchers a rough sense of how much virus remains within a person’s body, or the viral load. Dr. Conley’s note suggested Mr. Trump’s viral load was dropping, but appeared to still be detectable.
The subgenomic mRNA, mentioned by Dr. Conley, is a part of the virus that can be detected by laboratory techniques, and that suggests the presence of actively replicating virus, said Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California. But “there are zero cleared tests that look at subgenomic mRNA” from the coronavirus, she added, which means the procedure is “experimental at this point.”
Another, more traditional, approach to determine whether Mr. Trump still harbored actively replicating virus in his body might be to take a sample from the president’s airway and see if the coronavirus could be grown from the sample in a lab. But this technique was not mentioned in Dr. Conley’s memo.