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Bob Woodward Defends Sitting on Those Damning Trump Interviews for So Long

Meanwhile, Trump is already weaponizing the delay.

Donald Trump makes a pouty face during a press briefing.

When Bob Woodward shared some revelations from a series of interviews he did with Donald Trump earlier this year, people were angry. Much of the anger was directed at Trump, obviously, who can be heard in recordings talking about how deadly the coronavirus is at a time when he was downplaying its threat to the public, comparing it to the flu and calling it a hoax being pushed by the Democratic Party for political gain. He told Woodward that he was downplaying the virus knowingly and deliberately because he didn’t want to “create a panic,” choosing instead to gaslight a country while hundreds of thousands of people died.

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So of course people were angry with Trump. But people were also angry with Woodward for keeping these interviews to himself, only releasing them six and more months later in the lead-up to his book release.

Now Woodward is trying to defend his decision to sit on this information so long. The AP writes:

“He tells me this, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s interesting, but is it true?’ Trump says things that don’t check out, right?” Woodward told the AP during a telephone interview. Using a famous phrase from the Watergate era, when Woodward’s reporting for the Post helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, Woodward said his mission was to determine, “What did he know and when did he know it?”

It’s totally understandable for Woodward not to rush out and hastily publish this story before he knows what’s what. But the more he tries to explain why he waited so long, the more callous and calculating he ends up sounding.

“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 said. At that point, he said, the issue was no longer one of public health but of politics. His priority became getting the story out before the election in November.

“That was the demarcation line for me,” he said. “Had I decided that my book was coming out on Christmas, the end of this year, that would have been unthinkable.”

So he wanted to influence the election but has nothing to say about the nearly 200,000 people who have died between that interview and this week when he released the audio as promotion for his book?

Some are defending Woodward, saying it wouldn’t have made any difference if he’d shared what Trump told him earlier. And maybe that’s true. But we don’t know that, and it seems like a journalist has an ethical obligation to share something like this with the public. Also, who does it help to be so complacent about Trump’s actions and the reactions of his base?

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is trying to weaponize Woodward’s delay.

Earlier today he tweeted: “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!”

Then at a press conference this afternoon, he said the Woodward revelation was “stuff that everyone knew,” which it was not. “If Bob Woodward thought what I said was bad, then he should have immediately, right after I said it, gone out to the authorities so they can prepare and let them know.”

But which authorities is he talking about exactly? Isn’t Trump the authority here? Or maybe the team that briefed Trump on the dangers of the virus, whom he then ignored? Who is Trump suggesting Woodward should have gone to with this information?

Every single part of this whole story is awful.

(image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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