Now that President Trump has tested positive for Covid-19, he has a unique opportunity to become a poster boy for disease awareness. It can turn into a strong advocate of individual responsibility to combat the pandemic: urging Americans to follow all recommended standard protocols, from frequent hand washing to wearing a mask and social distancing. Doing so would not only be a smart political move, but also a monumental service to the nation, clinically and economically.
This proposal is based more on facts than on opinion. I have run media relations campaigns on dozens of public health issues for nearly 30 years. I have represented pharmaceutical companies, federal health agencies and nonprofit patient organizations, among others, in struggles against diseases ranging from cancer, diabetes and asthma to hypertension, anemia and hepatitis C. a celebrity, which embodies a certain condition.
You may recall that in 1998 Atlanta Falcons manager Dan Reeves suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He recovered quickly and returned to the sidelines five weeks later to lead his team to the conference championship. My client Merck and I have enlisted Dan as a spokesperson for an unbranded educational initiative on high cholesterol. Soon Dan told his story all over the place, encouraging thousands of Americans to visit a doctor and start an informed conversation about the potential treatment.
I’ve seen this approach – recruiting a celebrity with a health problem to go public with a triumph story over adversity for the greater good – succeed again and again. Two-time Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field, who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, has promoted bone mineral density tests for the disease, prompting thousands of older women to be screened. So it went with football player Jerome Bettis (asthma), Olympic decathlon champion Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner (arthritis pain), basketball player Alonzo Mourning (anemia) and dozens of others. Like it or not, Americans on the whole take seriously, and often follow, recommendations from famous and infamous people.
Mr. Trump can follow suit, and he should. In articulating his personal experience, from detection to treatment and recovery, he may inspire Americans who still suspect a hoax or resent government guidelines to take this virus seriously. None of the other national leaders affected by the infection – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin – have undertaken anything of this magnitude.
The president’s basic message could be: if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. He could regularly remind Americans in his speeches and press conferences to take the precautions recommended by his own federal health agencies. He could film a public service announcement that aired every hour on all stations. He could finally say everything we really need to hear him say. Wear the mask outdoors. Keep your distance. Wash your hands thoroughly. Avoid the crowds (yes, including massive political demonstrations).
Whatever the cause against his handling of this global crisis to date, Trump would have a chance to redeem himself somewhat. He may venture into something he has never tried before in public and turn out to be vulnerable and humiliated, even empathetic. Mr. Trump could turn his diagnosis into a new person as a model citizen and possibly something akin to a hero. He could forge the link needed to win over undecided voters. This new attitude and behavior could boost his position in the polls and his prospects for re-election in time to keep him in the White House.
He has nothing to lose.
Mr. Brody is a public relations consultant and author of the memoir “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctingly) Comes of Age”.
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