Trump Knew COVID Was Far More Dangerous Than He Was Telling the Public

The President admits that he intentionally downplayed the threat posed by the epidemic.

President Trump at the Bioprocess Innovation Center at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies President Donald J. Trump listens to a reporter's question during a press conference Monday, July 27, 2020, at the Bioprocess Innovation Center at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in Morrisville, N.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

President Trump sat down for a series of interviews with Bob Woodward and said some outrageous things. They were finally reported yesterday as part of an effort to sell a book.

Washington Post (“Woodward book: Trump says he knew coronavirus was ‘deadly’ and worse than the flu while intentionally misleading Americans“):

President Trump’s head popped up during his top-secret intelligence briefing in the Oval Office on Jan. 28 when the discussion turned to the coronavirus outbreak in China.

“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien told Trump, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. “This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”

Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser, agreed. He told the president that after reaching contacts in China, it was evident that the world faced a health emergency on par with the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Ten days later, Trump called Woodward and revealed that he thought the situation was far more dire than what he had been saying publicly.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call. “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.

At that time, Trump was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than a seasonal flu, predicting it would soon disappear and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control. It would be several weeks before he would publicly acknowledge that the virus was no ordinary flu and that it could be transmitted through the air.

Trump admitted to 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 to create a panic.”

[…]

The book is based in part on 18 on-the-record interviews Woodward conducted with the president between December and July. Woodward writes that other quotes in the book were acquired through “deep background” conversations with people in which information is divulged and exchanges recounted without the people being named.

“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.”

Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, has called this “almost criminal” and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. Given that all the public health experts were correctly telling what they understood about the virus, there was no avoiding “panic.” All Trump’s downplaying accomplished was to make the public response a partisan issue, with his supporters treating everything from the lockdowns to the wearing of masks as “fake news” and some kind of conspiracy.

There’s all sorts of other gossip and juicy details in the various published accounts, all of which will likely reinforce your pre-existing view of Trump.

Woodward, who came to fame with is reporting on the Watergate scandal and co-authorship of “All the President’s Men,” his insider account of said reporting, has become a Washington institution. He produces at least one of these books with every presidential administration following the same formula: his fame gets him unprecedented access and those who cooperate with him get treated much more favorably than those who keep their private conversations private.

As always, when news breaks months after the fact in one of these books, the natural question arises: Why wasn’t this published in the Washington Post, Woodward’s ostensible employer, rather than saved to goose book sales?

Margaret Sullivan, WaPo’s media reporter, tackles it in “Should Bob Woodward have reported Trump’s virus revelations sooner? Here’s how he defends his decision.

Woodward is hardly the first journalist to save juicy information for a book. But “is this traditional practice still ethical?” tweeted David Boardman, dean of the Temple University journalism school and the longtime editor of the Seattle Times.

Other critics were less circumspect: “This is really troubling. As journalists we’re supposed to work in the public interest. I think there’s been a failure here,” wrote Scott Nover, a reporter for the industry journal Adweek.

[…]

I took the questions and complaints to Woodward, who initially was reluctant to speak on the record until after a “60 Minutes” segment airs on Sunday because he had promised the publisher and CBS not to give any interviews until then. But because my questions were about process, rather than the content of the book, he agreed to address the ethical issues.

Woodward told me that — contrary to speculation — he did not have any signed agreement or formal embargo arrangement with Trump or the White House to hold back their conversations until the book published.

“I told him it was for the book,” he said — but as far as promising not to publish in real time, or signing such an agreement, “I don’t do that.”

Woodward said his aim was to provide a fuller context than could occur in a news story: “I knew I could tell the second draft of history, and I knew I could tell it before the election.” (Former Washington Post publisher Phil Graham famously called journalism “the first rough draft of history.”)

What’s more, he said, there were at least two problems with what he heard from Trump in February that kept him from putting it in the newspaper at the time:

First, he didn’t know what the source of Trump’s information was. It wasn’t until months later — in May — that Woodward learned it came from a high-level intelligence briefing in January that was also described in Wednesday’s reporting about the book.

In February, what Trump told Woodward seemed hard to make sense of, the author told me — back then, Woodward said, there was no panic over the virus; even toward the final days of that month, Anthony S. Fauci was publicly assuring Americans there was no need to change their daily habits.

Second, Woodward said, “the biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true.”

Trump spoke with Woodward on more than a dozen occasions, and in some cases, “he started calling me at night.” It took months, Woodward told me, to do the reporting that put it all in context, which is what he believes his mission as an author is: “My job is to understand it, and to hold him accountable, and to hold myself accountable.” He added: “I did the best I could” toward those ends.

But why not then write such a story later in the spring, once it was clear that the virus was extraordinarily destructive and that Trump’s early downplaying had almost certainly cost lives?

Again, Woodward said he believes his highest purpose isn’t to write daily stories but to give his readers the big picture — one that may have a greater effect, especially with a consequential election looming.

Woodward’s effort, he said, was to deliver in book form “the best obtainable version of the truth,” not to rush individual revelations into publication.

And always with a particular deadline in mind, so that people could read, absorb and make their judgments well before Nov. 3. “The demarcation is the election.”

I would be skeptical of all that but for a rather significant detail that Woodward and Sullivan should have led with:

Woodward, despite his longtime association with The Post, is no longer a Post employee, though he maintains an affiliation and the honorific title of associate editor. He’s no longer in the daily journalism business.

Were Woodward the Post‘s White House correspondent, withholding the information so that he could flesh out the story for a book would be unconscionable. For that matter, holding it so that he could publish it to have maximum impact on the election would also be highly problematic. But if he’s no longer a reporter but simply Bob Woodward, celebrity journalist and author of books, then I’m not sure what basis there is for criticism.

Aside from being an author and journalist, of course, Woodward is still a citizen. There’s perhaps some point where there’s a moral obligation to share information that could save lives. But Woodward’s explanation that he didn’t know what he had until weeks later is actually rather plausible.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, COVID-19, Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    I agree. The fact that Woodward is not a reporter for the Washington Post makes his obligation different. My other concern is that the real obligation is owed by the President and this immediate discussion turns the focus off Trump as if he were not the actual perpetrator of this disaster. It would be just in character for Trump and his accomplices to use this to sow doubt.

    5
  2. MarkedMan says:

    One of the most astonishing things is that Trump freely admits he doesn’t believe he has any Presidential responsibilities with regard to the coronavirus, other than to be America’s cheerleader. If we are going to use sports analogies I would guess most Americans look to the President as quarterback or head coach. There is a reason why no one ever said, “We’re down by 14 in the 4th quarter! Replace the cheerleaders!”

    8
  3. Northerner says:

    One odd thing about that. Trump, who doesn’t strike me as someone who has a lot of personal physical courage, refused to wear a mask (or have people around him wear masks). That doesn’t really fit with him knowing that Covid-19 is dangerous — I wonder if he just said it was dangerous because it fit with his mood at the time (that seems to be his normal approach to speaking).

    2
  4. An Interested Party says:

    Yet again, opening his big mouth gets him into trouble…he’ll never learn, especially with his apologists, lickspittles, and toadies in the Republican Party and among conservatives…with this blood on his hands, this election shouldn’t even be close…

    2
  5. Joe says:

    Even if he wanted to avoid public panic (and I think this theory just underscores what an abjectly poor and cowardly leader he is), wouldn’t this have been the point when he had someone check the PPE stockpiles and, if Obama really left them empty, start getting them refilled? And maybe having someone dust off the pandemic playbook to see if there was anything useful in it? However else the administration wants to spin this, it was an abject failure of leadership.

    9
  6. Jen says:

    I remain gobsmacked that he knew this was aerosolized in *February.* Scientists just started coming around to that conclusion in May/June, once they had data rather than reports. JFC.

    And this won’t matter one iota to his supporters.

    9
  7. PJ says:

    @Jen:

    I remain gobsmacked that he knew this was aerosolized in *February.* Scientists just started coming around to that conclusion in May/June, once they had data rather than reports. JFC.

    And this won’t matter one iota to his supporters.

    Well, he visited the lab where it was created the day before the interview and someone told him, just before he got his second vaccine shot. He has forgotten all about it since since his brain is now filled with “Person, woman, man, camera, TV”.

    3
  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    Forget all the 12 level chess analogies, forget the judgement that he is a Sgt Schultzian fool, we now know for a fact, what we have long believed, he is a mendacious narcissist who is willing to kill Americans to get reelected.

    I disagree with Biden, this is criminal behavior.

    Parse Woodward’s excuse and justification however you like, but he did a disservice to his fellow American’s for selfish reasons and is really no better than Trump. If Trump had told him that he was repeatedly raping an immigrant child that he was holding in the basement, would Woodward be justified in withholding that information for the book.

    12
  9. J. Foobar says:

    Also worth mentioning is the speech he gave on February 28, 2020, three full weeks after the interview he gave to Woodward, in which he referred to the Democratic concerns about his administration’s response to the virus threat as “their new hoax”. This same speech also contained yet another example of him comparing Covid-19 to the common flu.

    5
  10. CSK says:

    @Northerner:
    Trump initially said he wouldn’t wear a mask because he feared that one of his enemies in the press would take an unflattering photo of him. Remember that this is the guy who’s also noted that when he looks in the mirror, he sees a trim, handsome 35-year-old, not a morbidly obese geriatric with baggy eyes, an anus mouth, and a 5-lb sack of lard under the chin.

    3
  11. JKB says:

    “The next question for the House Managers is from a doctor in Wuhan, China.”

  12. Northerner says:

    @CSK:

    That still suggests that he has enough physical courage to risk what he knew to be a deadly disease because of vanity. Moreover, if it was just vanity, he’d have insisted everyone around him wear masks while he went mask free. As vain and narcistic as he is (and he’s definitely in the top percentile for both), going mask free (and wanting others around him to be mask free) is either a sign of not believing its dangerous, or of physical courage. That is, if he thinks its dangerous but has others around him go without a mask anyway then its a display of courage whether its because he trying to downplay it for political reasons or because of vanity (though having people around him wear masks wouldn’t trigger his vanity).

    I find it easier to believe he just mouthed the words saying it was dangerous without even thinking about it one way or the other — isn’t that his normal approach to even official statements, let alone ones to a reporter? Speak (and parrot) what others have said without bothering to try to understand the meaning?

    2
  13. Mikey says:

    @JKB: You helped enable this. You own a piece of every unnecessary death.

    29
  14. CSK says:

    @Northerner:
    Well, he “explained” the business about people around him not wearing masks because he and they were tested “every day.”

    Trump is a walking self-contradiction. On the one hand, he’s very easily manipulated and inclined to believe anything the last person he spoke to told him. On the other hand, he’s very stubborn and refuses to take good advice, because he and he alone knows more about anything than anyone.

    This is a lethal combination.

    6
  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    China squirrel! Look somewhere else!

    You and your ilk are responsible for the deaths of 200,000 Americans.

    23
  16. Kathy says:

    James, if you see someone on the street beating up someone else, or raping someone, or robbing someone, you have no legal obligation to render aid in any way. But if you don’t, what kind of person does that make you?

    Woodward is that kind of person. The deaths of thousands are on him, even if, as is almost certain, many others also knew the same thing and could have done something about it.

    7
  17. Scott says:

    @Scott:

    It would be just in character for Trump and his accomplices to use this to sow doubt.

    Right on schedule:

    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!

    4
  18. Slugger says:

    @JKB: There more than eleven million people in Wuhan. Everyone of them wants to ask how can Americans be this stupid.

    10
  19. EddieInCA says:

    @JKB:

    JKB says:
    Thursday, September 10, 2020 at 08:37

    “The next question for the House Managers is from a doctor in Wuhan, China.”

    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-53816511

    https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/wuhan-ground-zero-for-coronavirus-epidemic-re-opens-all-schools-1.5087316

    Wuhan is fully open, with almost zero cases currently.

    You’re an idiot troll, but you knew this.

    14
  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Aside from being an author and journalist, of course, Woodward is still a citizen.

    I can’t help noticing James, you left off “human being”.

    2
  21. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    James, if you see someone on the street beating up someone else, or raping someone, or robbing someone, you have no legal obligation to render aid in any way. But if you don’t, what kind of person does that make you?

    Woodward is that kind of person. The deaths of thousands are on him, even if, as is almost certain, many others also knew the same thing and could have done something about it.

    What piece of information did Woodward have that would have changed people’s behaviors?

    2
  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    Woodward’s not the only one. Where is Kelly? He knows the truth, why won’t he stand up and tell it? And don’t give me, ‘he’s trying to be apolitical,’ that ship sailed when he took a civilian political post. He has a duty and he’s failing in it.

    It gives you pause when you realize that of all the ex-Trumpies, the two who’ve shown the most honesty and integrity are Anthony Scaramucci and Omarosa. The Mooch is more attentive to his duty as an American than is General Kelly.

    22
  23. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I can’t help noticing James, you left off “human being”.

    I mean “citizen” in the fullest sense as a member of the community with obligations to said community.

    4
  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    What piece of information did Woodward have that would have changed people’s behaviors?

    Had he released the tapes earlier the Trumpian lies would have been unsustainable. Some unknowable number of Americans would not have died.

    8
  25. gVOR08 says:

    Hey, cut @JKB: some slack. He’s showing a classic example of the conservative worldview. They see everything as a matter of simple morality so they default to a moral solution. The proper response to any problem is to accuse someone of sinning and punish them. What else would you do? Standard issue response. Not very useful, but expected.

    4
  26. Moosebreath says:

    @EddieInCA:

    “Wuhan is fully open, with almost zero cases currently.

    You’re an idiot troll, but you knew this.”

    Are you saying that JKB knew he is an idiot troll, or that Wuhan has almost zero current cases?

    1
  27. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    You don’t think tapes of trump saying this thing is deadly dangerous, might have forced Trump to stop trying to downplay it as the corpses were piling on?

    5
  28. CSK says:

    Bear in mind that Michael Schmidt didn’t disclose till the publication of his book last week what he knew about Trump’s visit to Walter Reed in November 2019.

    Trump is gambling that we’ll forget what Woodward wrote by Election Day. And he may be right, much as I hate to admit it.

    7
  29. Scott says:

    @CSK: Michael Schmidt (like Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman) is a NYT coorespondent and on the payroll. Woodward is not on the payroll. I think that is a difference. If a daily journalist is withholding information so he can write a book later, he is basically stealing from his employer. Unless, of course, the employer also has a stake in the game.

    1
  30. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “What piece of information did Woodward have that would have changed people’s behaviors?”

    The documented fact that Trump was lying.

    4
  31. CSK says:

    @Scott:
    Quite so. I was thinking more of the fact that people tend to forget the most appalling revelations about Trump, probably because we’re bombarded with them on a regular basis. After a while, we expect them. Abnormal becomes normal.

    5
  32. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kathy:..tapes of trump saying this thing is deadly dangerous, might have forced Trump to stop trying to downplay it as the corpses were piling on?

    The corpses are still piling up today after this all came out. President Puke still wants to open schools.

    Today’s Tweet:..Democrats, OPEN THE SCHOOLS ( SAFELY), NOW! When schools are closed, let the money follow the child (FAMILY). Why should schools be paid when they are closed? They shouldn’t!

    He is still downplaying this entire situation.
    Apparently he believes that schools do not have any expenses when they are using remote learning instead of in classroom instruction.
    He also apparently believes that local school boards are all run by Democrats.
    So no. Piles of corpses can not change Pud into a thinking, compassionate human being.

    3
  33. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan and @Northerner:
    Once again, the Trump Behavior Decoder Ring is really easy to work. As Mary Trump soundly argued in her book, though undiagnosed, Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    Therefore he has a grandiose sense of self-importance which leads to wanting to prove to all that he is the smartest guy in the room. He doesn’t have to “know” more than others as much as “appear to know” more than others. In February, he’s telling Woodward he knows things that most of the country doesn’t know. The unique information he actually has is irrelevant to him.

    NPD also means Trump believes that he is uniquely “special” and can only be understood by other “special” people. This leads Trump to believe that no one can speak to his “specialness” as well as he can. So, he gives all these interviews to Woodward secure in his own knowledge that through his own words his unique genius will be made clear to all. Those of us who only hear incoherent babble when Trump speaks – well that’s just our “unspecialness” revealing itself.

    Finally, Trump’s NPD means he requires excessive admiration and that he has a very strong sense of entitlement. Biden has said as much throughout his campaign. Trump’s initial attraction to the presidency and his subsequent approach to the role derived from his view of the President as a figurehead like a king or head of state. From the very genesis of his presidential ambitions, Trump’s wanted the adulation, the pomp, the credit for national successes, and the personal emoluments that goes with the presidency. But, the work, responsibilities and burdens of the job? He truly can’t recognize them, let alone find himself accountable to them.

    So, whenever you wonder how Trump could say a certain thing or act a certain way, google Narcissistic Personality Disorder and you’ll find the key.

    7
  34. gVOR08 says:

    Prevent panic? As Trevor Noah pointed out, COVID would be about the only thing Trump doesn’t want us to panic over.

    The GOPs are rallying around of course he didn’t want panic and everybody is saying Trump said he didn’t want panic. But in the excerpts I’ve seen Woodward put that out – You didn’t want to cause a panic? … Right, I didn’t want to cause a panic. That’s the ticket.

    5
  35. MarkedMan says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Wuhan is fully open, with almost zero cases currently.

    The Trumpers have an explanation for this. As carefully laid out to me by one of my mother-in-law’s caregiver, China deliberately created the virus and then developed a vaccine. They secretly vaccinated the fast majority of the population, leaving only a few pockets to divert attention. Then they released it into the wild.

    Bottom line, Trumpers start with the premise that Trump is a flawless genius and work backwards from there. Since they will accept anything, no matter how absurd, that fortifies that belief in Trump, there is literally nothing that could change their minds.-

    3
  36. Mister Bluster says:

    @Barry:..The documented fact that Trump was lying.

    The known universe has had good evidence that Trump lies since his inauguration.
    All that Republican Man still cares about is that “you can grab them by the pussy” and Trump screws porn stars.

    4
  37. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    You don’t think tapes of trump saying this thing is deadly dangerous, might have forced Trump to stop trying to downplay it as the corpses were piling on?

    Speaking for myself and not James, no.

    Trump was never going to chose a path that required him to do something. Remember, it was Fred Trump who was responsible for all the actual construction the family business engaged in. Trump claims to have taken over when some of that was going on, but it is interesting to note that, as far as I can tell, it never had a major, ground-up, construction project after his father went into decline. Trump has never successfully built anything in his whole life. (C’mon JKB, give me a counter example!)

    5
  38. Scott says:

    @gVOR08: No panic here:

    “The Democrats never even mentioned the words LAW & ORDER at their National Convention. That’s where they are coming from. If I don’t win, America’s Suburbs will be OVERRUN with Low Income Projects, Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and, of course, “Friendly Protesters”.”

    2
  39. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    If predictions about the future are hard, predictions about alternate futures are harder.

    IMO, Trump’s misinformation is a bit like cancer. If you catch it early, you have a better chance to beat it back. You’re not certain to do so, but that’s the best bet. By the time his misinformation has been taken as holy writ by his followers, supporters, and cultists, ti’s like a metastatic cancer: nearly impossible to beat.

    If I seem to be referring to Trump as a tumor, it’s only because I am.

    4
  40. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: Precisely. The idea that the Lefty bleeding heart commentariat here always seems attached to is that “The One Truth” would have been the magic thing that changed everything.

    Had Woodward gone public earlier it merely would have been shrugged off and old news, lost in a sea of denials in Feb/March and unclear data and status.

    Public now there is some chance that a few percentage points of votes are shifted or glued to anti-Trump vote and helps prevent a 2016. In effect the same things that ate away like acid, slowly, almost imperceptibly at the Hilary votes. Except now Trump is on the receiving end.

    Publication earlier would have been useless.

    Now it may have an effect.

    4
  41. Hal_10000 says:

    I’m not seeing that Woodward releasing this information earlier would have done anything:

    1) We knew it was airborne very early. This was stressed in January. That the CDC/WHO didn’t emphasize this is not on Woodward.

    2) The Trumpists would have gone into denial just as they are now. This was proof of his *leadership*. That he didn’t panic the way the Democrats did. MAGA! He wasn’t going to impeached or removed or whatever. We’d have just gotten the same denial

    3) Trump did occasionally emphasize the seriousness of this. but he could never and still can’t stay on message. He wouldn’t have changed if tapes came out. he won’t change now.

    6
  42. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury: @Hal_10000:

    It wouldn’t have changed anything for thee or me because we knew Trump was full of shit and were ignoring him, anyway. And politically speaking this timing is good.

    But he wasn’t lying to us, he was lying to his culties. Might some of them have been saved? Yes.

    3
  43. Jen says:

    @Hal_10000:

    1) We knew it was airborne very early. This was stressed in January. That the CDC/WHO didn’t emphasize this is not on Woodward.

    This is not correct. Some scientists and epidemiologists suspected that it was airborne, but there was substantial push back from the scientific/medical community on this. Very few viruses are truly airborne, and as late as JULY the WHO was still pushing back on this. So no, we didn’t “know” it was airborne in January. Some medical experts are still fighting this conclusion.

    What struck me early on about the speed at which this disease moved led me to believe that it was both airborne and being transmitted by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers. But those were open questions without any data backing them up until late spring/early summer.

    You’re of course correct that it wouldn’t have made any difference to the Trumpkins.

    5
  44. Gustopher says:

    @Jen:

    I remain gobsmacked that he knew this was aerosolized in *February.* Scientists just started coming around to that conclusion in May/June, once they had data rather than reports.

    I am 80% sure that people are using very different definitions of a virus being airborn. We knew it was spread in cold-and-flu-like manners pretty early. The likelihood of infection with smaller amounts (the tiny, aerosolized droplets that hang in the air longer) was discovered later, but everyone knew to stay away from sneezes. So, airborne.

    It’s that jumbling of definitions that leads to confusion with @Hal_10000 — and something that was poorly communicated by WHO, or the CDC or reported on in the media (or all of the above, plus a dozen other culprits, including Sir Donald The Brave and Resolute)

    I’m still getting texts from my brothers about masks being like a chain link fence for mosquitos — the messaging on this was all over the place.

  45. Gustopher says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Publication earlier would have been useless.

    Bullshit, my fine and wordy friend.

    Trump, in his own words, describing the virus as a grave threat would have resonated. It would have undercut the anti-maskers and the open-it-up crowd before they got a chance to get their heels dug in.

    It would have given Trump a chance to trot out his “I just wanted to prevent a panic” earlier, and undercut the political effect, but it likely would have saved lives. Forced to confront the reality in public, the Trump administration may even have not blown it off so much.

    But not because “The idea that the Lefty bleeding heart commentariat here always seems attached to is that “The One Truth” would have been the magic thing that changed everything.”

    Trump believes his own bullshit. He’s the dealer who samples his own product.

    He tells people what they want to hear because he has nothing but contempt for them, and then later remembers saying it and believes it must be true if he said it because he is the smartest man in the room. Change what he is known to have said, and it changes his future actions.

    5
  46. David S. says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It’s admirable that, when it finally benefits your arguments to do so, y’all are now in favor of saving his cultists.

  47. Dutchgirl says:

    That we are arguing over whether it would have made a difference (and I believe it would not) is so depressing. It should have made all the difference, of course, and those arguing that it would have probably still have so hope that we can go back to some kind of normal post-45 and post-COVID. But is really wouldn’t have made a difference. That he lies has been obvious from the start, and mostly a feature not a bug to his fans.

    3
  48. keef says:

    Fauci: “The task force members would talk about the reality of what was going on and then in the press conferences, which were very common, he didn’t really say anything different than what we discussed. I didn’t see any discrepancies.”

    Interviewer: “So did you get a sense that he was, or wasn’t playing it down?”

    Fauci: “We relayed our concerns and he would say the same things in public we talked about. No. I didn’t get a sense he distorted anything. In my discussions with him they were always straightforward about the concerns we had. I’d hear him discussing the same things we talked about.”

    Which puts a different cant on the slackjawed criticism that as the leader of the country “lied to the people.” And more likely was doing what leaders do – call for measured response and calm.

    Further – it was Trump who was putting travel bans on while Biden was calling him a xenophobe and Pelosi was dancing through Chinatown downplaying the whole thing.

    The WaPo on Trump hyping the issue back then:

    The Trump administration on Friday dramatically escalated its response to the fast-spreading coronavirus epidemic by announcing quarantines and major travel restrictions that officials said were meant to limit contagion.

    The White House declared a “public health emergency” and — beginning on Sunday at 5 p.m. — will bar non-U.S. citizens who recently visited China from entering the United States, subject to a few exemptions. Shortly after the White House announced the new restrictions and said there were six confirmed U.S. cases, a seventh case was confirmed in Santa Clara County, Calif.

    Enter Joe “He’s a xenophobic fear monger” Biden.

    Now, predictably, on cue…. the exact same outlet, the Washington Post, says President Trump “downplayed” the danger.

    At that time, Trump was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than a seasonal flu, predicting it would soon disappear and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control. It would be several weeks before he would publicly acknowledge that the virus was no ordinary flu and that it could be transmitted through the air.

    Drooling, childishly credulous and besieged by TDS is no way to go through life people. This manufactured scam has a half-life of two days.

    Time for the next faux outrage.

  49. Kathy says:

    here’s one thing that’s for certain:

    If Woodward had come out with this information earlier, then he’d know he had done all he could within his power, whether it succeeded in changing things or not, and he’d have a clear conscience now.

    3
  50. Michael Reynolds says:

    @David S.:

    It’s admirable that, when it finally benefits your arguments to do so, y’all are now in favor of saving his cultists.

    I despise his cultists. I want them driven from political office. That doesn’t mean I want them dead.

    But objectively speaking Trump did want them dead. Him: yes. Me: no. Don’t forget, Trump wasn’t lying to me, I know he’s a pathological liar, he was only lying to his supporters. He wasn’t giving me suicide instructions, he saved that for his fans.

    6
  51. Jen says:

    @Gustopher:

    I am 80% sure that people are using very different definitions of a virus being airborn.

    Fair point. But the way Trump phrased it in his call with Woodward went beyond the large droplets/aerosolized argument, he seemed to very much understand the ramifications of it “spreading by air.” Colds and flu are transmitted by droplets and touched surfaces, and yes, that we knew and was part of the messaging–and Trump differentiated from those by saying this was worse than “even spreading by touch.”* Bottom line, he appeared to know and understand that this was different.

    I can’t remember if someone here linked to the piece or if it was something I came across elsewhere, but the history behind medical experts pushing back on viruses that are aerosolized is interesting. Once viruses and bacteria were better understood, there was a huge push by the medical community to get people beyond believing in “miasmas.” So it now takes a massive amount of evidence to get the medical/science community to accept transmission via airborne particles. Droplets/sneezing aren’t considered by doctors to be airborne. That this virus transmits by talking, singing, and even exhaling–that’s what is now fairly evident, and certainly was not in January.

    * This might be paraphrasing, I listened to the recording and can’t remember his exact words, but it was clear he got that this was different than cold/flu spreading.

    2
  52. wr says:

    @Gustopher: I have long since lost the illusion that the Bob Woodward of reality is the character played by Robert Redford so many years ago, and I have very little interest in his books, all of which seem to bear the subtitle “Nice things about people who talked to me and shit talk about those who don’t.”

    But whatever his motivations for withholding this information, it’s actually coming out at an ideal time now. For whatever reason, Trump suddenly seems to have lost his Teflon coating. The stuff that’s coming back at him — really starting with the losers stuff — is sticking to him finally. So this ends up having a much greater impact now — which also happens to be weeks before the election — than it would have back then…

    4
  53. Jen says:

    @keef: Trump flat-out lied about the severity of this, misleading the public and delaying appropriate action. This in turn gave rise to a tsunami of idiocy and stupid behavior on the part of his supporters, who followed his lead in blathering that it’s “no worse than the flu” when he clearly, clearly knew and understood that was a lie.

    He’s a horrible person, and an even worse president.

    10
  54. wr says:

    @keef: Did you memorize all the Trump lies, or did you have to check Google while you were typing this nonsense?

    4
  55. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen: FWIW, all aerosolized particles are airborn, but not vice versa. Sneezing and coughing transmit things through the air by fairly large droplets which quickly fall to the floor or other surface. When something is an aerosol it means the particles are sufficiently small they are no longer primarily affected by gravity and will hang in the air for quite a long time. Something the size of a single C19 virus would be fairly indifferent to gravity and probably much more dominated by brownian motion, and might never settle out until it randomly impacted something it would stick to. So, as the commenter above stated, there was a lot of discussion about whether the virus was aerosolized, but from the earliest stages it was generally accepted it could be transmitted through the air. As far as I know there is still some debate on this so at the very least it means that aersolization is not a big factor.

  56. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen:I admire the attempt, but there really is no point arguing with a Trumper. If reality could sway them they wouldn’t be Trumpers.

    3
  57. Joe says:

    @keef:
    Without digging too deep into your silliness, let’s flash back the message mix that (a) COVID19 is no worse than the flu, but (b) we need to simultaneously shut down some part of incoming travel from China. Yes, saying that out loud does sound a little xenophobic.

    6
  58. Jen says:

    @MarkedMan: Yes–we’re saying the same thing. I understand the differences, it’s why indoor vs. outdoor seems to be such a key factor in transmission (particularly indoor with poor ventilation).

    I’m not so sure about this statement though:

    but from the earliest stages it was generally accepted it could be transmitted through the air.

    My quibble is with “from the earliest stages” and “generally accepted.” There was a great deal of focus on sneezing/coughing/and “if you’re already sick stay home” statements early on. Most medical doctors and scientists were focused on large and mid-sized droplets, that spread through sneezes and coughs.

    It was only later, after a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, that they started to look seriously at the transmission by talking/breathing and particles that stayed suspended in air for up to 2-3 hours. That’s when the outside, outside, outside mantra began.

    2
  59. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: I mean “citizen” in the fullest sense as a member of the community with obligations to said community.

    And yet you give him a pass. Interesting. For some reason or other I think you and I have entirely different meanings for the phrase “a member of the community with obligations to said community.”

    Unless of course you mean a different community than “Americans”, or that his only obligation was to monetize for personal benefit inside information that he was in possession of.

    And maybe telling people what he knew wouldn’t have saved any lives. Than again, maybe it would have. Maybe it would have saved a thousand lives, maybe only one. The fact is, he didn’t even try.

  60. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen: Here’s something from WHO in June:

    Some studies conducted in health care settings where symptomatic COVID-19 patients were cared for, but where aerosol generating procedures were not performed, reported the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in air samples (23-28), while other similar investigations in both health care and non-health care settings found no presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA; no studies have found viable virus in air samples.(29-36) Within samples where SARS-CoV-2 RNA was found, the quantity of RNA detected was in extremely low numbers in large volumes of air and one study that found SARS-CoV-2 RNA in air samples reported inability to identify viable virus. (25) The detection of RNA using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)-based assays is not necessarily indicative of replication- and infection-competent (viable) virus that could be transmissible and capable of causing infection.(37)

    The difference between airborne droplet transmission and aerosolization is significant. For example, if we had even moderately high degree of transmission via aerosols we would expect a significant number of cases of, say, a nurse or aide at the nurses station, in the pre-mask days, who was infected despite never being in close proximity to any infected people. And that hasn’t happened in enough numbers to demonstrate the feasibility conclusively.

    Which is not to day that it doesn’t happen. There was one case in China that appears to show spread via air-conditioning ducts. My point is simply that, by now, if it was a major contributor to cases we would know by now. A paper published a few days ago still refers to this as an unresolved debate.

  61. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I agree, which is why I rarely reply directly to them (I just imagine the size of the downvote they’d get, if we still had downvotes).

    But it might be useful to debunk their crap, so it will not sway people who read the comments but rarely or never comment themselves.

    In that spirit, let me point out most US airlines had scrapped flights to and from China by the time Trump el Loco instituted his ban. Let me also point out his “ban” leaked like colander, as it allowed US citizens who might have been exposed to the virus in China to return home; it also allowed people from all over the world to fly from China to the US, so long as it wasn’t directly (like by flying Beijing-Moscow-New York in a US or European carrier). Lastly, the travel ban on China did nothing to keep people from Europe out. A lot of America’s earlier exposure came from Europe. That ban, with the same leaks as noted above, came much later, and airlines had not suspended flights to or from Europe.

    There was also no mandatory quarantine of arrivals, regardless of where they came from or what citizenship they held. There were suggestions to “self-isolate” for 14 days, nothing more. That’s as effective as a screen door on a submarine. there wasn’t much screening, like even taking a temperature reading (largely pointless as it’s to ambiguous), or a PCR test for SARS-CoV-2, etc.

    Banning or reducing travel in a pandemic is a good idea. Like social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding gatherings of more than a handful of people (especially indoors), and other amelioration measures, it keeps the number of cases from growing too much. But a travel ban by itself, especially implemented after the pathogen has arrived, unpacked its luggage, seen the country, made itself at home, and set up permanent residence, is not the magic bullet trump and his cult claim it is.

    1
  62. An Interested Party says:

    Drooling, childishly credulous and besieged by TDS is no way to go through life people.

    Slavishly fluffing the head of a freakish cult is an even worse way to go through life…get some help, sweetie…

    And more likely was doing what leaders do – call for measured response and calm.

    Yes, real leaders do that, but Mr. “Beware of the Central American Caravans!!!” has never really been a person who called for measured response and calm…

    4
  63. Hal_10000 says:

    @Jen:

    I don’t think we disagree, we’re talking about different things: aerosol vs. droplet spread. Droplet spread was well-established by February and that’s almost certainly what Trump was referring to
    at that time (to the minimal extent he understands these things).

  64. charon says:

    https://twitter.com/TomJChicago/status/1304075427540066304

    Woodward is getting heat for holding back his book tapes. In his defense he basically walked in to a crime scene by taping Trump. Info came at him sequentially from COVID to nukes to N Korea. If he broke news on Feb 7, they would’ve cut him off from getting the other deadly info.

    Woodward was making more tapes, finding out stuff as late as July.

    1
  65. Teve says:

    @Kathy:

    Lastly, the travel ban on China did nothing to keep people from Europe out.

    It was shown with genetic phylogenies that the big hit in New York came from strains from Italy. Which makes sense, NYC’s over 8% Italian-Americans.

    2
  66. Teve says:

    @An Interested Party: yeah given that the re-election campaign’s message is Antifa Radical Marxists will kill your white family! the claim that he was trying to prevent panic is absurd.

    4
  67. Mikey says:

    @keef: Nothing murders irony quite so effectively as a Trumpist fool accusing people of being “drooling and childishly credulous.”

    You also own a piece of every unnecessary death.

    3
  68. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Which is more important, a clear conscience or a million seller book?

    It gives you pause when you realize that of all the ex-Trumpies, the two who’ve shown the most honesty and integrity are Anthony Scaramucci and Omarosa.

    That’s … really sad. (And reinforces previous themes about good people being in government, so thanks for that at least.)

  69. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @An Interested Party: Knock off the “sweetie” sugar. It’s demeaning and reinforces that your an asshole by nature and breeding.

    1
  70. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: If anybody is deserving of being demeaned, it is JKB.

    Wait a minute, I take that back, it is literally impossible to demean JKB anymore than he already has demeaned himself.

  71. An Interested Party says:

    Knock off the “sweetie” sugar. It’s demeaning and reinforces that your an asshole by nature and breeding.

    Oh, that’s rich…I don’t need to take advice from someone who seems to be proud of his own reputation as an asshole…are you one by nature or by breeding or by both? I tell ya what, I’ll try to be less condescending to Trump cultists when you try to be less condescending to people like Jen…

  72. Northerner says:

    @CSK:

    That’s certainly the impression of him in Canada. Plus a lot of us think he’s actually too stupid to understand what he’s saying in any case — do you have to understand something to be considered a liar?

  73. Northerner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Well, government lying to people about pandemics is a tradition — it was done by a lot of gov’ts (I don’t know about the United States), but the Canadian gov’t initially denied the existence of the Spanish Flu (because of WW1). And you could argue that the WHO initially lied about the effectiveness of masks against Covid-19 because they were worried about a lack of masks for medical personnel.

    But I’m just being cynical. Trump seems to have taken it further, both in that he wasn’t trying to keep a world war effort going, and in that we expect much more openness from gov’t now than in 1918. Sometimes Trump looks like a through-back to old values. For instance, in absolute terms there were probably a lot of worse Presidents than him (ones who supported slavery or the wiping out of the Native population). But they were in line with the ideas of their time, he’s not.

  74. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Which is more important, a clear conscience or a million seller book?

    Like the quality of Soylent Green, it varies from person to person.

    But Woodward has several million seller books already.

    Does he have a clear conscience?