Bob Woodward knows how to insert himself into the national discussion. The question is whether or not he belongs there.
The centerpiece of Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” is a series of interviews with President Trump on the subject of the coronavirus — but there are plenty of other claims to be found in there. Among the other allegations being made: Dr. Anthony Fauci has a rather dim view of the president’s intellect.
The book claims Fauci, the administration’s point man on COVID-19 policy and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Trump’s attention level is poor and that the president changes the subject when Fauci disagrees with him, according to Insider.
“His attention span is like a minus number,” Fauci allegedly said in private. He also allegedly said the president operates on a “separate channel” from reality and Trump’s “sole purpose is to get re-elected.”
Fauci is also supposed to have expressed his dismay with presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who Fauci was allegedly disappointed would act as a cheerleader for the president “as if everything was great.”
This was all news to us, of course. According to Dr. Fauci, it was also news to him.
Appearing Wednesday on Fox News — a few hours after The Washington Post released audio in which the president told Bob Woodward that he “wanted to always play [the pandemic] down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic” — Fauci said he didn’t believe President Trump severely twisted the facts on the coronavirus in his messages to the American people.
“I didn’t get any sense that he was distorting anything. I mean in my discussions with him, they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had,” Fauci told Fox News host John Roberts.
“We related that to him. And when he would go out, I’d hear him discussing the same sort of things. He would often say, ‘We just got through with a briefing with the group from the task force,’ and would talk about it. So it may have happened, but I have not seen that kind of distortion.”
“I don’t recall anything that was any gross distortion in things I spoke to him about,” he added.
Also of note, Fauci didn’t believe the president was going off-script by playing things down.
“You were there through that whole thing,” Roberts said. “Was that the playbook or was that the president just going his own direction?”
“I don’t think so, John,” Fauci said. “I don’t recall anything different than in our discussions that we had with the president that he said things quite similar publicly.”
“I didn’t really go over any of the text since it just came out,” he added. “But you know, in my discussions and the discussions of other task force members with the president, we’re talking about the reality of what was going on.
“And then when we would get up in front of the press conferences, which were very, very common after our discussions with the president, he really didn’t say anything different than we discussed when we were with him,” Fauci continued.
“I may not be tuned in to the right thing that they’re talking about. But, I didn’t see any discrepancies between what he told us and what we told him, and what he came out publicly and said.”
As for the other things in the book, including his remarks about the president’s attention span, Fauci said: “If you notice, it was [reported that] others have said [I said] that. So, you know, you should ask others. I don’t recall that at all.”
“According to what I saw in the newspapers, it says ‘and others have said that.’ So you know, I don’t really want to get involved in the kind of stuff that is very distracting to the kind of things that I’m trying to do and that we’re all trying to do with this outbreak.”
There are always questions about what “I don’t recall” means, particularly if it’s uttered anywhere inside the Beltway. (This goes doubly for its slightly more sinister cousin, “I have no recollection of that, senator.”)
Sometimes you can parse it as a pleasant version of “I’d prefer not to answer that.” However, Fauci going out on Fox News to do a 10-plus minute interview on it counts as a media blitz for him, at least when it doesn’t involve Sunday shows.
Again, we’re faced with the same problem we had with Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in The Atlantic where unnamed anonymous sources claimed President Trump called war dead “losers” and “suckers” and said that he didn’t want wounded veterans in military parades because they looked bad.
Nobody’s willing to go on the record with much of what’s in the book — except, of course, for the president, who knew he was speaking on the record. Everything else relies on how much you trust those who are delivering it.
In Woodward’s case, consider this: He’s currently making headlines for reporting Trump’s talk in February and March about downplaying the virus so as to not cause a panic.
The veteran journalist thought it was so important to relay this information to us that he informed the American people … in September. And just one week before his book comes out, too. Nothing to see there, folks.
In this case, we have Dr. Fauci denying this with a certain amount of vigor. The media has told us before, in no uncertain terms, that we ought to believe Dr. Fauci. Heaven knows they do. This time, it’ll be interesting to see if they take their own advice.
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