Bob Woodward rejects massive criticism
Bob Wooodward has been forced to defend himself against criticism that he waited too long to reveal that Donald Trump had told him in early February that he knew coronavirus was “deadly stuff”.
The journalist and author’s revelation on Wednesday, ahead of his next book’s release, that Trump knew how dangerous the virus was so early on has prompted outrage against the president, but also raised an ethical question: shouldn’t Woodward have immediately made this public?
Trump, who has regularly played down the threat of a virus which has now killed almost 200,000 in the US, has justified his stance as not wanting to cause panic.
“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!” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning.
Critics of Woodward saw self-interest in his sitting on the information.
“Bob Woodward knew the truth behind the administration’s deadly bungling – and worse – and he saved it for his book, which will be released to wild acclaim and huge profits after nearly 200,000 Americans have died,” Esquire’s Charles P Pierce wrote on Twitter.
Adweek’s Scott Nover said: “These interviews about Covid-19 were done in February and March. Why are we learning about it in a book published in September? Isn’t there a journalistic imperative to publish this information in a timely manner, especially during a pandemic?
“This is really troubling. As journalists we’re supposed to work in the public interest. I think there’s been a failure here.”
Woodward defended his decision not to come forward sooner. In an interview with the Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, Woodward said he needed to provide more complete context than he would a news story.
Woodward told Sullivan he did not know where Trump acquired his information and “the biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true”.
“My job is to understand it, and to hold him accountable, and to hold myself accountable,” said Woodward, explaining that it took months to contextualize everything with reporting. “I did the best I could.”
“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 in an interview with the Associated Press.
Woodward said at that juncture, the issue dealt more with politics than public health. His goal became revealing this story before the presidential election in November.
“That was the demarcation line for me,” Woodward remarked.
“Had I decided that my book was coming out on Christmas, the end of this year, that would have been unthinkable.”
Woodward wrote in his forthcoming book, Rage, that Trump knew about Covid’s virulence weeks before it spread unchecked, remarking in a 7 February call with the journalist: “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”
Trump reportedly said: “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,”
Some of Woodward’s defenders have argued that going public in February would not have made any difference. Others disputed this.
Journalism professor Christian Cristensen wrote on Twitter: “Saying Woodward immediately revealing what Trump had said about Covid-19 would’ve made no difference because it would be been dismissed as fake news is bullshit, because that’s a total surrender to the anti-democratic forces of disinformation. By that logic, why publish anything?”
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