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Kudlow Mischaracterized WHO Director While Comforting Investors About Coronavirus

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But as he attempted to soothe Wall Street about the threat posed to the United States by the outbreak, the former cable TV talking head also referred to some comments from one of the world’s top health authorities.

Earlier on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom called the recent uptick in newly reported coronavirus cases in Italy, Iran, and South Korea “deeply concerning.”

And ahead of Kudlow’s TV appearance, the CDC had announced that that the virus would likely spread in the United States.

As markets plunged over the news — reportedly infuriating President Trump — Kudlow sought to assure investors that it was safe to invest.

“We have contained this,” he said in his first remarks on the network. “I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.”

Then, over the course of the interview, Kudlow appeared to repeatedly quote Tedros.

“Look,” he said, “I don’t want to sound heartless or cruel or anything. This is a human tragedy. It’s mostly centered in China. There is contagion elsewhere, Italy, Iran, I think that’s what’s upset the market. So I understand that.”

He continued: “I would, say number one, the head of the World Health Organization, today, said, ‘Let us not overreact.’ I think that’s an important point. I will make the same point on the economy.”

But the WHO director-general hadn’t exactly said what Kudlow attributed to him. Asked for a source for Kudlow’s comments, the White House pointed TPM to an NBC News report on Tedros’ media briefing Tuesday.

Rather than telling the public not to overreact, Tedros said the recent, “sudden” increase in new coronavirus cases was “very concerning,” and that “this is a time for all countries, communities, families and individuals to focus on preparing.”

Tedros did note a point of hope — that the WHO team in China had determined that “the virus can be contained.” Tedros also said the WHO had chosen to not use the term “pandemic” to describe the outbreak.

“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has,” Tedros said. “Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”

Nonetheless, in his interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans, Kudlow twice more told viewers that Tedros had urged them not to “overreact.” The White House did not respond for a request for comment on Kudlow’s characterization of Tedros’ remarks.

“We will try to remain ahead of the curve to protect American citizens, it’s exact,” Kudlow told CNBC. “But that does not mean that all this will come to pass. And, again, I was just interested in the World Health Organization head who said ‘Let’s not overreact to that.’ I would make the same point on the economic side.”

“The human tragedy side, difficult, horrible. The economic side, there is no tragedy in the United States,” he added. “China is going to take an awfully big hit.”

Kudlow returned to the phrase again a few minutes later, tying it again to the market.

“We have contained this virus very well here in the U.S., and all the emergency planning will add to that,” he said. “The virus story is not going to last forever. It’s not going to last forever and that’s why I like the World Health Organization saying, ‘Let’s not overreact.'”

“To me,” he continued, “if you are an investor out there and you have a long-term point of view I would suggest very seriously taking a look at a market, a stock market that is a lot cheaper than it was a week or two ago.”

About The Author

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Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.