US President Donald Trump abruptly ended his coronavirus press briefing on Monday after getting into a testy exchange with an Asian-American reporter – an incident denounced by several observers, including other journalists, as “racist”.
TV network CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang asked Trump why he continued to insist that the US was doing better than other countries when it came to testing for the virus.
“Why does that matter?” she asked. “Why is this a global competition when, every day, Americans are still losing their lives?”
“They’re losing their lives everywhere in the world,” Trump replied. “And maybe that’s a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me, ask China that question, OK?”
Jiang, who identifies herself in her Twitter bio as a “Chinese born West Virginian,” pushed back.
“Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically?” she said, implying it was due to her race.
“I’m saying it to anybody who would ask a nasty question like that,” Trump said.
“It’s not a nasty question,” Jiang replied. “Why does that matter?”
Trump then asked for another question from other journalists present, pointing to CNN media outlet reporter Kaitlan Collins, who said she was giving Jiang the time to finish her questioning, to which the president replied, “Nah, that’s OK” and waved off the CNN reporter as she approached the microphone.
According to a third female reporter working for PBS TV network, Trump called her next, but she motioned for Collins to ask her question, and that was the moment the president walked off the podium.
CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said the exchange between Trump and Jiang “was something that has racial overtones. It’s racist to look at an Asian-American White House correspondent and say, ‘Ask China.'”
Peter Maer, a retired White House correspondent for CBS, wrote on social media that Stelter “nails it” when describing Trump’s behaviour as “racist”.
The internet was also quick to rally round Jiang, with the hashtag #StandWithWeijiaJiang soon trending on Twitter.
“I #StandWithWeijiaJiang against Trump’s racist tantrums,” tweeted Star Trek actor and prominent Asian-American activist George Takei.
Reporter and CNN political analyst April Ryan, who has also been on the receiving end of Trump’s words, tweeted: “Welcome to the club! This is sickening! It is his habit!”
Trump, who has never been shy about his dislike for the news media, has often locked horns with journalists during his coronavirus press briefings.
More than 80,000 people have died in the US from the coronavirus and the country has reported more than 1.3 million cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest death toll of any country.
– AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES