The Trump administration’s credibility crisis continues as the president is mocked for apparently signing a blank piece of paper with a marker in photos taken at Walter Reed military hospital, in a vain attempt to show him working while fighting coronavirus.
On Saturday night, the White House released photos of Donald Trump appearing hard at work while in hospital, where he remained for a second night after a “very concerning” period.
His daughter, Ivanka Trump, shared one of the photos on her Twitter, with the caption: “Nothing can stop him from working for the American people. RELENTLESS!”
But Mr Trump’s attempts to appear undefeated by Covid-19 were quickly picked apart by eagle-eyes commentators, who took to social media to accuse him of staging the photos.
Jon Ostrower, editor-in-chief of aviation publication The Air Current, took a closer look at data embedded in the photos shared by the White House, and found they were taken just 10 minutes apart but showed the president working in two different places.
“The photos released by the WH tonight of the president working at Walter Reed were taken 10 minutes apart at 5:25:39 pm and 5:35:40 pm ET Saturday, according to the EXIF data embedded in both AP wire postings that were shared by the White House this evening,” he said.
White House reporter Andrew Feinberg also examined the photos and upon zooming into one of them, found that Mr Trump “appears to be signing his name to a blank sheet of paper”.
Many people responded to the photos with mockery, with the word “staged” trending on Twitter on Sunday morning.
One person said: “He was a reality TV star. As far as he’s concerned, he just had to shoot a couple of promos for the ‘look presidential’ bit he performs.”
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) October 4, 2020
Another said of him purportedly signing a blank sheet: “That’s the only kind of ‘work’ he knows how to do. And in his mind, as long as he makes it look like he’s working and his base believes it, that’s every bit as good, if not better, than actually doing something.
“We’re living through the reality TV presidency.”
Some people were concerned about Mr Trump’s lack of any sort of personal protective equipment (PPE) as he was photographed in different locations in the hospital while infected with a highly-contagious virus.
“Not a huge surprise that these photos are staged – and I’m amused by those pointing out that if you zoom in he’s just signing a blank sheet of paper – but it’s genuinely appalling that he still won’t wear a mask,” said historian Alex von Tunzelmann.
“I hope his vanity hasn’t caused the photographer to be infected.”
The photos released by the WH tonight of the president working at Walter Reed were taken 10 minutes apart at 5:25:59 pm and 5:35:40 pm ET Saturday, according to the EXIF data embedded in both @AP wire postings that were shared by the White House this evening. pic.twitter.com/EzeqIkGdf7
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) October 4, 2020
It comes as questions were raised around the authenticity of the video released by Mr Trump from the hospital on Saturday night, in which he sought to reassure Americans he would return to work in the White House “soon”.
Several film editors pointed out a glitch in the video where the president appears to hiccup, but may have been an exit cut in the footage to edit out a cough.
Speculation around the president’s true state of health since his diagnosis, as well as the timeline of his illness, has been thrown into question amid confusing and conflicting reports from him, his doctor and his chief of staff.
On Saturday evening, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the president’s next 48 hours “will be critical in terms of his care”, adding: “We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”