PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Journalist Bob Woodward shouldn’t have waited to release information that President Trump said he tries to downplay the coronavirus even though he knew it was deadly, says a Point Park professor and director of the Center for Media Innovation.
President Donald Trump talked privately about the severity of the coronavirus threat even as he was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than the seasonal flu and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control, according to a new book by Woodward.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call with Woodward. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.
Point Park University Center for Media Innovation director Andrew Conte says while Woodward has been a “valuable” resource for the public when it comes to understanding American presidents, Woodward “also must answer for his own lack of transparency” in withholding information about the president.
“By revealing the president’s comments much earlier, Woodward might have spurred public action that could have saved lives,” Conte said in a press release, adding “we may never know” what could have happened.
“That he timed the information release to goose sales of his book further raises questions about Woodward’s motivations and his allegiance to the public that relies on his unique reporting,” said Conte.
For the White House, the book serves as an unwelcome return to a focus on Trump’s handling of the pandemic just as he is trying to project that the virus is under control and as he is eager to see a return to normal activity leading up to the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Trump told Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want create a panic.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the book shows Trump “lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”
“He had the information,” Biden said during a campaign event in Michigan. “He knew how dangerous it was. And while a deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job — on purpose. It was a life or death betrayal of the American people.”
The Washington Post, where Woodward serves as associate editor, reported excerpts of the book, “Rage” on Wednesday, as did CNN. The book also covers race relations, diplomacy with North Korea and a range of other issues that have arisen during the past two years.
The book is based in part on 18 interviews that Woodward conducted with Trump between December and July.
“Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states,” Woodward writes. “There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president’s words to the public were designed to express confidence and calm at a time of insurmountable challenges.
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