Many business leaders disapprove of President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, but fear the consequences of saying so publicly — according to Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief of the business publication Fast Company.
In a newly released interview, taped on April 27, Mehta said many top executives find it “frustrating” they cannot criticize Trump over his handling of the pandemic due to potential damage for their company and personal backlash they may face online.
“It’s frustrating for a lot of leaders in business because they feel they can’t come out and call the president out on it,” says Mehta, a former business reporter at the Wall Street Journal and executive editor at Fortune.
“The consequences can be pretty great, not only to their business but also they become the subject of some pretty, pretty serious flaming on social media,” she adds.
Since Trump took office, he has sharply rebuked some of the nation’s top chief executives. In 2018, Trump called JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon a “nervous mess” after the bank executive said he was “smarter” than Trump.
The year before, Merck CEO Ken Frazier set off a wave of resignations from a business advisory council for the president, following remarks from Trump that appeared to draw equivalence between white supremacists and counter-protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va.
In response, Trump immediately criticized Frazier, tweeting that the resignation would afford him “more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
The Trump administration has drawn criticism from public health experts and political opponents in recent months for what some consider a failure to adequately address the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages, and for false statements that largely downplayed the threat of the virus.
Trump has repeatedly said “nobody” could have foreseen the pandemic though he reportedly received dire warnings as early as February.
Top business leaders have largely avoided public criticism of Trump amid the pandemic, but on a conference call in May about three dozen executives told him to “dramatically increase” testing capacity in order to make Americans feel comfortable going back to normal everyday activities, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Mehta said Trump’s mishandling of the crisis left an opening for the private sector, which mobilized to produce medical equipment and other supplies.
“Weirdly, business, which was never created for social impact purposes, seems to be taking the lead here in terms of showing inspiration and leadership.”
Mehta made the remarks in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Since 2018, Mehta has served as the editor-in-chief of Fast Company. Prior to her current position, she worked in various reporting and editing roles at the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Bloomberg, and Vanity Fair.
At Fortune, she worked with Serwer, who left the publication in 2014 and became Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance the following year.
Mehta criticized what she considers the Trump administration’s failure to provide reliable information and adequate leadership during the pandemic.
“I, like a lot of Americans, have been really frustrated with the federal government’s response and Donald Trump’s response in particular, because people are looking for inspiration, but they’re also looking for candor and honesty,” she says.
“Clearly that has not been a hallmark of this administration, in my humble opinion,” she adds.