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Thomas Gallatin / Sep. 10, 2020

Woodward Smears Trump for COVID Negligence

He alleges that the president downplayed the virus's seriousness for political reasons.

Former Washington Post investigative journalist Bob Woodward released excerpts from his soon-to-be-released book, Rage, in which he alleges that President Donald Trump intentionally downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 in early February, weeks before the pandemic hit the U.S. Regarding several phone interviews Woodward had with Trump, the Post summarizes:

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.

At that time, Trump was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than a seasonal flu, predicting it would soon disappear and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control. It would be several weeks before he would publicly acknowledge that the virus was no ordinary flu and that it could be transmitted through the air.

Trump admitted to Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said.

While it’s clear that offering this excerpt is intended to goose book sales, the primary motive is one of political calculations. Woodward admits as much in defending the timing of the book’s release: “If I had done the story at that time about what he knew in February, that’s not telling us anything we didn’t know.” Woodward then adds, “That was the demarcation line for me. Had I decided that my book was coming out on Christmas, the end of this year, that would have been unthinkable.” Unthinkable because it would have been useless to Joe Biden’s campaign. In fact, suspiciously, on the evening of March 19, Biden released a statement alleging that Trump was using his words “to downplay COVID-19 and mislead the American people.”

Trump quickly responded to the story, noting that his motivation for downplaying the virus was concern for preventing unnecessary panic. “The fact is, I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump argued. “I love our country, and I don’t want people to be frightened… We don’t want to instill panic. We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem.”

Trump also hit at Woodward’s obvious political motives, asserting, “Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”

Dr. Anthony Fauci also rejected Woodward’s characterization of Trump’s pandemic response, stating, “I didn’t get any sense that he was distorting anything. I mean, in my discussions with him, they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had. We related that to him. And when he would go out, I’d hear him discussing the same sort of things. He would often say, ‘We just got through with a briefing with the group from the task force,’ and would talk about it. So it may have happened, but I have not seen that kind of distortion.”

Further evidence that Woodward’s motives are primarily political came courtesy of his former Watergate journalist colleague, Carl Bernstein, who hyperbolized that Trump’s actions were “a kind of homicidal negligence.” He alleged, “Thousands and thousands and thousands of people have lost their lives because the president … is putting his own narrow presidential reelection efforts in front of the safety, health, and well-being of the people of the United States.” We’re not holding our breath for a Bernstein exposé on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for his “homicidal negligence” and attempted cover-up of his order to send COVID-infected patients to nursing homes rather than hospitals — a decision that directly lead to the deaths of thousands of elderly and most-at-risk New Yorkers.

Finally, Trump’s claim simply rings true. His aim wasn’t to deceive the nation but to set an appropriate tone. And the truth is, the virus has not come anywhere near the mainstream media’s widely reported number of more than two million American deaths. That’s the real story — how widespread fearmongering spurred elected officials (especially Democrats) to initiate an economic shutdown that has negatively impacted the lives of millions of Americans.

(Visit our comprehensive CV19 Pandemic response and recovery page to review our timeline of government and political actions related to the pandemic, and see our related pages regarding the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.)

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