During coronavirus briefing Trump says he'll consider pardon for Netflix star Joe Exotic

Andrew Naughtie
The story of Joe Exotic has captured tens of millions of viewers: Netflix US/AFP via Getty Images

On the day the coronavirus pandemic claimed another 1,800 lives in the United States, President Donald Trump was asked at a Covid-19 press briefing if he would pardon Joe Exotic, star of the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King who is serving a prison sentence for a murder-for-hire plot.

The pardon had first been suggested, apparently as a joke, by Donald Trump Jr.

New York Post reporter Steven Nelson asked: “One of the biggest rating hits of the coronavirus, aside from these briefings, has been a show on Netflix called Tiger King, and the man who’s the star of this is a former zoo owner serving a 22-year prison sentence.

“He’s asking you for a pardon saying he was unfairly convicted. Your son yesterday jokingly said that he was going to advocate for it. I was wondering if you’d seen the show and if you had any thoughts on pardoning Joe Exotic.”

The exchange came as the US reported more than 1,800 Covid-19 fatalities in a single day – its highest daily death toll of the pandemic so far.

Mr Trump seemed not to know who Joe Exotic was or what he is serving jail time for, or that his son had called for a pardon – though he was not surprised to learn it was “Don”, that is Donald Trump Jr.

“Which son? It must be Don. I had a feeling it was Don. Is that what he said? I don’t know, I know nothing about – [Exotic] has 22 years for what, what did he do?

Mr Nelson clarified: “Allegedly hired someone to murder an animal rights activist, but he said that he didn’t do that.

Responding, Mr Trump asked the reporter: “Do you think that he did do it, are you on his side? Are you recommending a pardon?” Mr Nelson declined, and Mr Trump moved on to another reporter. “As a reporter, you’re not allowed to do that, you’d be criticised by these – would you recommend a pardon?

“I don’t think you would. I’ll take a look.”

The president’s son tweeted a video of the exchange, saying “Ok this is hilarious. Also credit to the reporter who acknowledged I was joking. Normally they know I’m joking but run with it as though I’m serious.”

Mr Nelson was roundly criticised for his question, with other journalists and users on social media questioning the appropriateness of the topic as the US death toll continues to surge.

“The media is so addicted to sensationalism,” wrote Eugene Gu, MD, "We have a broken government and a broken media.”

“Is someone asking Trump about Tiger King during a White House briefing during a national emergency?” wrote another. “Who the hell just asked that?”

Writing later about the exchange, Mr Nelson pointed out that he also asked questions about an upcoming congressional infrastructure bill and Mr Trump’s threat to cut off funding to the World Health Organisation.

Tiger King, which details the cutthroat rivalry among a group of zookeepers collecting and breeding exotic animals with sometimes violent consequences, attracted roughly 34 million unique viewers in the US alone the first ten days after its release, putting it only just behind Netflix’s massive hit Stranger Things.

Trump’s daily coronavirus press briefings, meanwhile, have also become something of a ratings phenomenon, with task force doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx becoming almost as watched as the president himself.

However, several TV and radio stations have stopped broadcasting the briefings live in their entirety because of inaccurate information from the president.