Recordings of interviews between President Donald Trump and Bob Woodward, Washington Post associate editor, revealed Trump acknowledged the severity of COVID-19 in early February despite downplaying the pandemic at the time.
Woodward’s recordings are part of his 18 interviews held with Trump for his upcoming book, Rage.
When the recordings were published by The Washington Post on Sept. 9, people on Twitter were quick to blame Woodward for withholding information. Some critics questioned his ethics and accused him of holding back for the sake of book sales.
While it’s easy to blame Woodward, let’s not forget who we should hold accountable: those in power, those in charge.
As the president of the United States, it’s Trump’s responsibility to be as open as he can with the American people. His excuse that he didn’t want to panic the public hardly holds up.
Woodward told the Associated Press that if he had published the recordings back in February, it wouldn’t have told people anything they didn’t already know. He has a point. Having Trump on the record admit that he recognized COVID-19 as deadly wouldn’t have changed how his public downplaying of the virus matched his weak policies in dealing with it.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern Jan. 30, a day before the U.S. implemented a travel ban on most travelers from China.
At a New Hampshire campaign rally in February, Trump said, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”
On March 5 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated there was no reason to believe the virus behaves differently in varying temperatures.
The U.S. already had around 1,100 cases and 33 deaths when a travel ban on several European countries was announced March 11. The same day, in an address to the nation, Trump said the risk was low for the majority of Americans.
There was a shortage of personal protective gear such as N95 masks in March, and COVID-19 testing supplies were limited, despite Trump’s claim March 6 that anyone who wanted a test could get one. Just three days before, the CDC said public health labs had a testing capacity of 75,000.
On Jan. 22, a day after the first U.S. case was confirmed, Trump said, “We have it totally under control.”
As of Sept. 8 the CDC reported a total of 6 million U.S. cases.
If the Woodward tapes had been released back in February, they would have only told us what we already knew to be true because we saw it happening right before our eyes. It would have told us that COVID-19 is dangerous, the president knows, and he is still not doing enough.
What would have been alarming and warranted outrage would have been if a health official, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, had dismissed the pandemic’s severity while hiding the truth from the public.
But Fauci and other health officials warned us and the president of the severity of COVID-19 from the beginning. And yet Trump continued to drag his feet.
In a March 19 interview, Trump told Woodward that he didn’t want to alarm the public with the whole truth.
“I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said.
Other presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression to John F. Kennedy facing the Cuban Missile Crisis, have kept Americans in the loop about harsh realities and potential national threats in the past.
The only way this would have been somewhat significant is if the U.S. had been more prepared and achieved the same success as New Zealand or Iceland in their COVID-19 response. If from the beginning Trump had taken the pandemic seriously with action, it would have held up his claim that he didn’t want to create a panic.
Instead he downplayed it, in both words and actions, and the American people are still suffering the consequences in September.
If the tape has any relevance today, it should erase any doubts left standing that Trump didn’t do enough.
This isn’t about whether you support Trump or not. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. This isn’t about Woodward and his book. This is about holding public leaders accountable to the people they serve.