Full Program »
Presidential Sparring: White House Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing Conflict as Image (dis)Repair
In March 2020 President Donald J. Trump began hosting daily White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefings. Both journalists (Bump & Partker, 2020; Peters et al., 2020) and academicians (Benziman, 2020; Dhurova, 2020; Rutledge, 2020; Spradley & Spradley, 2020a) demonstrate interest in systematic analysis of President Trump’s press briefing rhetoric describing it as contradictory, exaggeratory, freewheeling, hostile, and self-congratulatory. Classifying President Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing communication as both conflict and crisis rhetoric, this study draws on Benoit and colleagues’ use of image repair theory to explore how confrontational presidential responses to journalists contributed to image (dis)repair. To begin, the literature on image repair theory identifies gaps in the literature with regard to conflict. Literature is emerging to attend to image repair in conflicts and crises of varied scales (Holtzhausen & Roberts, 2009; Spradley and Spradley, 2020b; Tabak & Avraham, 2018), but this literature does not consider image repair in concert with conflict escalation or explore how attempts at image repair may exacerbate conflict. To address this gap, rhetorical artifacts were coded for both image repair and conflict escalation strategies in President Trump’s communication between March and April 2020 in coronavirus press briefings. Findings emphasize how conflict escalation mutually constituted image repair in humor, denial, blame shifting, provocation, good intentions, bolstering, and attack the accuser. Finally, conclusions explore the implications of this study with regard to research and practice with emphasis on the consequentiality of conflict escalation to image disrepair.