(Disclaimer: I am not qualified to work in mental health or any other scientific field, and I am not a journalist. The statements in this blog post are based on observations prompted by news accounts.)
Former Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s new book about Donald Trump, titled Rage, will be out on September 15. I don’t have an advance reader copy, so I won’t comment on the book itself. This blog post addresses information that Mr. Woodward made public this week, which prompted a public debate on his ethics as a journalist.
Mr. Woodward has disclosed — way after the fact — that the President told him during an audiotaped interview that he was aware of the public health threat posed by COVID-19.
Some people are expressing outrage that the head of state, such as he is, understood that the country and the rest of the world were in a dire situation, and he didn’t prepare. We already knew he didn’t prepare, but up until now there was a lingering assumption that Trump has consistently been in denial.
During news conferences, Donald Trump has said things about COVID-19 that suggest magical thinking. He has alluded to weird-sounding “cures” that some of his followers have poisoned themselves trying. He has also contradicted his scientific advisors by claiming the virus will fizzle out on its own.
The rest of this post appears in slightly different form on a private social media page. Please give it some thought. There are so many ways of interpreting what we learned this week, and the situation deserves enough of our respect to warrant a careful look:
It’s unlikely Bob Woodward could have changed the course of things if he had blown the whistle earlier this year, but he had a human obligation to try.
Unfortunately, even with the information the public has had for years about Donald Trump’s lying and his indifference to the distinction between right and wrong, he still gets away with whatever he wants. Trump and his lackeys have transformed the U.S. Presidency into a dictatorship, and often they’ve done illegal things openly to meet that goal.
If The Donald wants to mismanage a pandemic, he’ll mismanage a pandemic. It makes no difference whether we can see what he’s doing.
There’s a question of whether governors might have done things differently if they’d been told Trump knew the virus had disastrous potential. Maybe more lives would have been saved, but not in every state (Note: In California, Governor Gavin Newsom — a Democrat — locked down the state under relatively strict conditions in March, ignoring Trump’s dismissive attitude. The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, did the same soon after).
It seems unlikely people in GOP controlled states would have been any less vulnerable if the truth had been made clear. Trump still would have denied that it was a big problem (followers like his wouldn’t be bothered by flip-flopping), and his party would have stood behind him. Nothing Bob Woodward could have said would have prevented a single superspreader event from being held in any red state, and probably wouldn’t have motivated a single strict mask mandate in a red state.
I’ve had questions about Bob Woodward’s ethics ever since the late 1980s, when he admitted he sneaked into CIA Director William Casey’s hospital room for an interview when Casey was terminally ill and didn’t have his mental faculties.
Bob Woodward is capable of first rate journalism, but be aware that he ignores boundaries when he believes it will work to his advantage. He definitely has that “self-interest before ethics” instinct, albeit not as strongly as The Donald.
That said, please don’t suggest that Bob Woodward missed an opportunity to save us from a pandemic. No journalist has that sort of power during a Trump Presidency.