I wasn’t entirely sure what to think when I heard journalist Bob Woodward had conducted hours of interviews with President Donald Trump in which Trump admitted to downplaying the threat of the coronavirus in order to avoid panicking the American people, among other things.
Thankfully, I remembered where the wise among us turn at discomfiting moments like this: our country’s conscience, Patton Oswalt.
Oswalt, the funnyman best known for voicing Remy the rat in “Ratatouille” and making fun of KFC’s Famous Bowls, also has political opinions, in case you haven’t listened to his entire comedy special.
His comedy is not particularly deep, mind you. In one famous routine, he compares George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to the Dukes of Hazzard, noting they would “jump the General Lee over the Bill of Rights” and saying that if the bar for impeachment was Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, Bush should have been “beaten to death on the lawn of the White House with Aerosmith playing and being like, ‘Yeah, f— that guy!'”
So we may not be dealing with George Carlin (or even Lewis Black, really), but at least he can vouch for the criminality of one Donald J. Trump:
So… we arrest him, right? Someone arrest him? Criminal negligence? Nearly 200,000 dead? Arrest him? Right? Right? Anyone? https://t.co/E7DntzUpyz
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) September 9, 2020
“So… we arrest him, right? Someone arrest him? Criminal negligence? Nearly 200,000 dead? Arrest him? Right? Right? Anyone?” Oswalt tweeted Wednesday.
Yes! This kind of attitude was criminal. The fact that Trump reportedly told Woodward in March he “wanted to always play [the coronavirus pandemic] down” — after telling him the prior month that the virus was “deadly stuff” and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus” — urgently needed to be conveyed to the people.
Which is why Bob Woodward is telling us in, um, September.
In fact, this is the great curiosity that many on the left and in the establishment media do not want to explore.
This is being treated as a smoking gun — worse than the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape — as far as Trump’s electoral chances go.
We’ve stopped reporting on all of our other fresh outrage, including Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in The Atlantic which accused Trump of disparaging fallen soldiers, in order to devote all our time to Trump admitting he played down COVID-19 so as not to alarm America.
And it’s not that Woodward sat on this for weeks, waiting for the proper time to release it. This was months, which raises an obvious question:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2020
“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?” Trump tweeted Thursday.
“Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!”
And that’s the thing. I’m going to assume you’ve read “All the President’s Men,” or at least seen the movie.
Imagine they were trying to track down a pandemic instead of malfeasance on the part of Richard Nixon. Imagine this was smoking-gun stuff.
Then imagine a scene where Woodward’s just finished an interview with the president where he said some of the controversial quotes in Woodward’s new book:
“Bernstein! I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” Robert Redford-as-Woodward says, uncrumpling a piece of paper in a phone booth; the clunky black receiver is wedged between his shoulder and ear, a pencil in his mouth.
“What is it? What have you got?” Dustin Hoffman-as-Carl Bernstein says on the other end of the line as he smokes a cigarette.
“He told me he downplayed it, only weeks after he told me how deadly it is. Listen to these quotes: ‘You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,’ he said. ‘And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.’”
“That’s — we’ve nailed him!” Bernstein says at the other end of the line. “Let me tell Bradlee. He’s going to want to put this on the front page.”
“No, no, wait, Carl,” Woodward says. “I’ve got a better idea — let’s put this in a book.”
“A book? But that’ll take months to publish. We’ve got to get this into tomorrow’s edition.”
“No, no, listen Carl — let’s put this in a book. We’ll release it in September. It’ll be right before the election.”
“But … we need to inform the public, Bob. That’s what … what are you talking about?”
“Also, I think we can put a whole lot of other interviews in it. And it’ll come out right before the election. Great idea, no?”
No, it’s not, not even in a hypothetical pandemic edition of “All the President’s Men.”
This wasn’t necessarily news at the time — the virus was clearly killing people in China at the time, although its severity was still being determined. What Trump said, admittedly in a maladroit way, was that he didn’t want people to panic over the potential for the disease to spread.
Bob Woodward had this information for months. He didn’t bother releasing it.
He’s either an unethical journalist or he didn’t quite think Trump’s comments were as earth-shaking as they’ve come across to the left.
This controversy may get the Patton Oswalt-types all worked up, but for the rest of us, there’s not really much there there.
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