General Question

janbb's avatar

Knowing what he knew about Trump's knowledge of the coronavirus, should Woodward have released the info earlier?

Asked by janbb (59206points) September 10th, 2020

Is a journalist culpable for withholding information? Has anyone heard him say why he waited? Would it have made any difference given that people are so entrenched in their convictions anyway? I really don’t know.

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66 Answers

hmmmmmm's avatar

Of course he should be held accountable for what he did.

@janbb: “Is a journalist culpable for withholding information?”

He had direct access to the president of the US, and had him on tape admitting to an active crime. He actively held back that information from the public, and 200,000 people died. He’s a “journalist” at the Washington “Democracy Dies in Darkness” Post, yet he participated in that darkness.

@janbb: “Would it have made any difference given that people are so entrenched in their convictions anyway?”

That’s a good question. But I believe it certainly would have limited much of the non-compliant idiocy we saw for months, along with the continued conspiracy theories that Trump encourages about C19 being fake and all of this “don’t tread on me” attitude about being “forced” to wear masks.

It also would have helped inform rational people of the severity far earlier, and most definitely would have saved lives.

This is a pure scandal of a failure in journalism.

canidmajor's avatar

I think he definitely bears a LOT of culpability, unless he can come up with a pretty convincing reason during his upcoming 60 Minutes interview. If his excuse is that the publisher said he had to wait, not good enough.
I think, in order to do some damage control, the pandemic would have been handled very differently by the Administration, and might have resulted in dramatically fewer casualties.

I will be interested to hear what the hell kind of excuse he gives for not disclosing sooner.
I am not disposed to feel forgiving about this.

elbanditoroso's avatar

If Woodward had disclosed this early on, there’s a strong chance that Trump would have cancelled all the rest of the interviews, and we would have learned far less about the Trump misdeeds.

It’s a judgment call – short term versus long term effects. On balance, I have to go with Woodward, because there is a bigger picture.

As for @hmmmmmm ‘s comment about journalism failure – I mostly disagree. Woodward isn’t the malefactor here, Trump is. Don’t change the argument.

canidmajor's avatar

@elbanditoroso, the question here is specifically about Woodward’s role in this.
And really, if you see a kid take an automatic weapon into a school, and say nothing, you are somewhat complicit.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@elbanditoroso – What if Woodward had Trump on tape in February saying that he knew a terrorist group released a nerve toxin into the water supply in NYC and he had specific information about how to avoid getting sick? People start getting sick and there are rumors and disinformation about how people are getting sick and how to avoid falling ill. Months go by, and hundreds of thousands of people die. Finally, in September, Woodward releases a book and comes out with information that he has been sitting on a tape of Trump talking about how he knew the severity and method of transmission of the toxin way back in February.

(I apologize for the hypothetical. I usually avoid these, but I’m breaking my rule here.)

chyna's avatar

^I had that same hypothetical in my mind. It makes me angry that he held back,

gorillapaws's avatar

Yes. It could have pressured Trump to be more proactive in addressing the virus earlier. People probably died because he held that information back.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

193,000 families in a class action lawsuit for wrongful death will find out who is to blame.

kritiper's avatar

Woodward said he needed to have everything in order, so to speak, before he could correctly release the information. So while he should have released it earlier, it was probably most correct to wait. Otherwise he would have pulled a boner and looked like a fool and a poor excuse for a journalist.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@kritiper: “Woodward said he needed to have everything in order, so to speak, before he could correctly release the information. So while he should have released it earlier, it was probably most correct to wait.”

Even if he was using one of those old-timey tape recorders, the most work he’d have to do in order to “have everything in order” would be to click “rewind”. A seven-month rewind of a tape while people die is pretty far-fetched.

kritiper's avatar

@hmmmmmm As intelligent as the man obviously is, and the amount of experience he has, I find it very hard to fault his logic. And people were doomed to die anyway.

janbb's avatar

Personally, I would like to hear from Woodward his reasons for why he waited before forming an opinion. I imagine there will or have been interviews.

canidmajor's avatar

60 Minutes on Sunday should have the Big Reveal.

@kritiper: Don’t mistake Woodward’s reputation for conscientious handling of the information. Having a book deal doesn’t give one the moral high ground to endanger the lives of so many.

And, as I said in my first post: ” I think, in order to do some damage control, the pandemic would have been handled very differently by the Administration, and might have resulted in dramatically fewer casualties.” There might have been a very different reaction by the White House to prove that they were on top of it.

hmmmmmm's avatar

Well, his book is currently #1 on Amazon.

chyna's avatar

I didn’t think the book was even out yet.

hmmmmmm's avatar

^ It’s available for pre-order.

janbb's avatar

An interesting discussion of Woodward’s culpability – or lack thereof. (Posted the whole link because there seems to be a bug in Fluther’s linking.)

chyna's avatar

King Neptune ate your link!

janbb's avatar

@chyna I know. He’s done that a few times lately and I don’t know why. But the full link will work.

canidmajor's avatar

@janbb, I always have to post the full link from my tablet, because I am too lazy to walk the eight feet to my laptop.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@janbb thanks for the article. I agree with the analysis. He pretty much wrote exactly what I did.

Caravanfan's avatar

I don’t often 100% agree with @hmmmmmm but he’s got it absolutely correct in this one. It’s journalistic malpractice. He withheld it to sell a book. What an asshole.

Jeruba's avatar

It doesn’t seem so clear-cut to me. We’ve been hearing whistle-blowers of one sort or another for at least four years now, and nobody listens to Cassandra.

It seems quite possible to me that Woodward, knowing Trump knew what he was telling him, thought that much potential exposure would pressure Trump into doing his duty as president, rather than letting it fall to a journalist to do his job for him.

People with their fuzzy minds made up and people with their shameless lies aren’t going to change their behavior just because some reporter says X or Y. We’ve already seen what happens with anonymous reports and with credited (and credible) reports. People who choose to ignore them or twist them just go ahead and do so with impunity.

Trump would have turned his machinery on Woodward and shut him off—or up—one way or another. This might have been the only way he thought he could get it all out, uninterrupted: with the imprimatur of a reputable publisher behind him, and too late to be recalled. A fait accompli might have been his best shot. Or he might have believed so.

Should the information have come out? Of course it should. And who was responsible for that? Whoever had it. Somebody had it before Trump. Let’s start there.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I’m inclined to agree with @elbanditoroso and @Jeruba here.

And no, it would not have made a difference in Woodward had went public earlier, potentially with only partial information. It likely would have just made things worse.

And at any rate – this is exactly the question Emperor Tang and his cult want people asking. It deflects the attention and outrage away from him and on to the person who dared to out him.

JLeslie's avatar

Woodward should not have withheld the information, but we KNEW what was happening in China, parts of Europe, and even some of our America were held on cruise ships in February. The media was reporting it. People are acting like Americans had no idea. Maybe Fox News wasn’t reporting it I don’t know, but plenty of news sources were.

Trump is negligent for not taking action sooner to control the virus better, Trump is negligent for not curbing the behavior of Americans sooner than he did. He is negligent for encouraging people not to wear masks at his rallies, but we KNEW the virus was airborne by end of January, definitely February.

I think Trump is right that you need to not cause hysteria, but we did need to cause awareness and caution, and he didn’t. Woodward could have helped with that, because if he had outed what Trump said to him, Trump would have had to address it. But, address what? Other countries they mask up and take some precautions with any infectious alert. Would Americans have made minor changes? Hopefully, going forward we will.

Where the hell was CDC, FDA, and even the scientists who previously worked on the pandemic committee that Trump got rid of? Why weren’t they pressing harder? Talking to the media? Biden and other congressman I would guess were aware in January of what was happening with the virus, Biden says he called for us to go into disaster mode, seems they could have told the public too.

Every year WHO, CDC, FDA, HHS, watch the flu travel here by cruise ships and planes, to think covid wasn’t here yet in February is crazy. That was the obvious assumption.

I think Woodward should have done more, but I don’t agree with how the situation is being framed by a lot of talking heads.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I don’t think Woodward is to be held responsible for failing to reveal Trump’s actual beliefs concerning the disease. If anything, Woodward’s big failure is in not notifying the public that Trump is perhaps not as stupid as he appears.

Pandora's avatar

I wish I could say with full confidence that it would’ve changed how Trump fanatics reacted to the virus. I believe Trump would’ve just denied what he said in the interview and his adoring fans would’ve ate that up and called it a hoax, like they do everything else and still behaved in the same manner.
I believe most of the nation that objected to wearing mask didn’t object because they truly believed it was a hoax. They did what they did because you always have the people who say it’s not going to happen to me and I’m not going to let a virus dictate how I should live my life and I don’t give a crap about what happens to other people. A huge percentage of our nation is selfish as can be. That’s how Trump got into office anyway. He appealed to people greedy nature and they all came to the buffet table and stayed.

Yellowdog's avatar

An author is only culpable if the information is true. This book is primarily political.

hmmmmmm's avatar

I find it strange that people don’t seem to feel that journalists have a responsibility, or that a “free press” is important, etc.

Anyway, Woodward should have just waited until after the election to publish his book if he was going to wait 7 months. He’s done Trump a huge favor here.

Darth_Algar's avatar


He has Trump on tape saying this shit. There’s no way any sane or intelligent human being can deny it.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@hmmmmmm “I find it strange that people don’t seem to feel that journalists have a responsibility, or that a “free press” is important, etc.”

Yes, clearly, obviously, it’s that black and white. There’s A and there’s Z and nothing inbetween.

Yellowdog's avatar

No matter how you try to spin it, @Darth_Algar et al, Trump quarantined the first few cases of Covid in America, and banned travel from China, in the first few days of January—for which he got lots of criticism for almost six weeks. Remember Nancy Pelosi dancing in Chinatown without a mask in late Feb, trying to make it into a racist thing? These are the anti-Trump images we will remember.

Remember the commission telling us that healthy young adults should have no problem with going on cruises in Feb and March?

Most of us can remember Trump saying it was a hoax, or under control. But even more than that, I remember months of Trump being ridiculed and called a xenophobe—you can’t have it both ways.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Darth_Algar: “Yes, clearly, obviously, it’s that black and white. There’s A and there’s Z and nothing inbetween.”

I don’t know. I happen to believe that what Trump did is criminal. Some may disagree. I guess there’s just a wide range of opinion here.

If you don’t take it very seriously, or feel that helping Trump win re-election and contribute to a ton of deaths while ignoring your responsibility as a journalist just to sell some books is ok, then I guess there is some gray area to explore here. Right?

hmmmmmm's avatar

Trump can ride this journalist scandal until November.

So, Woodward not only fucked us back in February – he just gave Trump a giant gift for November.

Jeruba's avatar

The Washington Post reported this on March 20, 2020:

Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” said a U.S. official who had access to intelligence reporting that was disseminated to members of Congress and their staffs as well as to officials in the Trump administration, and who, along with others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive information.

“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” this official said. “The system was blinking red.”

In other words, Woodward wasn’t sitting on it. The word was already out and lots of people knew. Trump actively interfered with mitigating steps. An attempt to pin that on Woodward now is ridiculous in the extreme.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Jeruba: “In other words, Woodward wasn’t sitting on it.”

Washington Post paywall has me blocked from reading that article. Can you confirm that this article is from Woodward and from Feb 2020?

He was sitting on it. And he should have just continued to.

janbb's avatar

@hmmmmmm Basically, this is not going to make much difference as regards the election. As we can see here, those who would follow Trump down to hell will do so and those who oppose him will do so. I can see being angry at Woodward or thinking he acted responsibly but blaming his book for a Trump reelection is stretching things in my opinion.

Woodward is Trump’s deflection du jour and tomorrow it will be someone else.

hmmmmmm's avatar

^ This should have been a Trump scandal, but now it’s a Trump/journalism scandal. Trump’s tweet is 100% correct. Trump actually is correct in his assertion here, which shouldn’t be allowed to happen. If we feel that Trump was in the wrong here (I do), we have to be disgusted with the journalistic malpractice.

Would it have made a huge difference to have released the tape back in February? I’m not going to pretend that it definitely would have. But I am fairly confident that the conversation about the severity and risk of C19 (and its transmission method) would not have been the same.

Jeruba's avatar

@hmmmmmm, no, it wasn’t Woodward’s report then, and the article date was March 20, as I said. My browser crashed as I was assembling my response, and I have to start over. My point, though, was that the information about Trump’s duplicitous response was already known by many. You’re not sitting on something if scores of other people have it and can release it. And the fact that Trump is a liar isn’t news.

hmmmmmm's avatar

^ You are explicitly confirming Trump’s tweet. Woodward’s release of the tape now is irrelevant. It was unimportant, and it doesn’t matter now.

Of course Trump is a liar. But one of the most famous journalists had him on tape, and I happen to believe that he had a responsibility to be a journalist, and I believe it could have made a difference in the speed and severity of the response. The national conversation in February would most definitely have changed. And that is when we needed it most.

Trump lying is not news. But a journalist keeping vital info from the public during a pandemic that resulted in needless deaths is news.

janbb's avatar

@hmmmmmm From what I’m reading, there is much more in the book than the pandemic remarks. It also talks about Trump’s overt racism and his deployment of troops domestically. So he probably was building a case against Trump.

But I do understand what you are saying and I do think it could have saved lives if Woodward had released the tapes early on in the pandemic.

filmfann's avatar

Woodward isn’t a government representative. He is a reporter.
BTW, he has said he wasn’t sure if it was true, because Trump said it.

Darth_Algar's avatar


I think you’re being somewhat naive if you think that Woodward releasing this back then would have made any difference. The severity of COVID-19 was well known, widely being reported, and confirmed by pretty much every health organization and infectious disease expert in the world. People choose to ignore it. If they weren’t listening to the top experts in that field then they sure as shit weren’t going to listen to an old newspaperman with a rambling idiot and known liar on tape.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Darth_Algar: “I think you’re being somewhat naive if you think that Woodward releasing this back then would have made any difference.”

I could be.

It sounds like you don’t find Woodward’s tape or info important or relevant.

I guess Trump is right. None of this matters. Let’s move on.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@hmmmmmm _“It sounds like you don’t find Woodward’s tape or info important or relevant.

I guess Trump is right.“_

This is exactly what I was talking about in my post above. With you everything is “A” and anything that doesn’t agree fully with your view is the polar opposite of that. I don’t know if you realize how many potential allies this mindset turns off. It’s nearly as bad as this woman I know who’s locked into this rigid mindset on just about everything and anyone who deviates even slightly from her view (which, sooner or later, comes to include pretty much everyone) “literally wants her to die”. Eventually people grow weary of engaging with her at all and she ends up ranting to no one on social media.

hmmmmmm's avatar

^ I’m actually summarizing your position.

- It wouldn’t have made any difference
– People would just ignore it
– It doesn’t matter

Trump: “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!”

I’m saying that you two are making the same point. This isn’t my position. It’s what you are arguing.

But if it doesn’t matter, than what are you doing arguing with me? And why doesn’t journalistic responsibility matter to you – even if you think nothing would have changed? Are you ok with the fact that this was a gift to Trump? It’s frustrating for you to go back and forth.

I understand that you find my positions to be “rigid” or black and white. It’s equally frustrating on my side, if it makes you feel any better.
Also, we do not differ in opinion in small ways. There is a vast divide between our ideologies. It’s understandable that we’re going to disagree.

Zaku's avatar

The problem isn’t the journalist.

The problem isn’t even Trump.

The problem is our country is so full of ignorance, madness, and corruption, that causes all this pathetic waste and suffering. Only a nation in such a pathetic state could take so much damage from such circumstances.

Part of the madness is wanting scapegoats, but the real cause is cultural…

Darth_Algar's avatar


That isn’t what I’m saying, but go ahead, keep reaching. I find Woodward’s report important in that it, once again, outs Trump as a liar. It’s important to hold the President to account always. However, I do not believe that him releasing any of this months ago would have made any difference in the speed or severity of the response.

Again, things are not always ether…or like you want to make them out to be.

Jeruba's avatar


> You are explicitly confirming Trump’s tweet. Woodward’s release of the tape now is irrelevant. It was unimportant, and it doesn’t matter now.

I don’t know what tweet you mean. I’m not confirming Trump on anything. I’m saying there’s a difference between information about the virus and information about Trump’s response to the virus. Woodward has tapes; that’s news. Trump’s overt, explicit admissions: that’s news. That is what Woodward is informing the public about. It was not his job to inform the public about the virus.

Demosthenes's avatar

@Zaku That’s probably true. Even if this had come out at the time, we probably still would’ve seen the same resistance to the quarantine and mask-wearing and other preventive measures, we still would’ve seen protests for “my right” to spread disease, etc. I think the U.S. was destined to suffer greatly from this pandemic. It’s in our culture to resist the kinds of things that can prevent a disease like this from spreading.

Darth_Algar's avatar


It’s in our culture to think “me me me me me, screw anyone else”. All the other issues stem from that.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@Yellowdog you can’t lie any better than you hero old “Bone Spurs”, he did NOT ban travel from China he banned Chinese citizens and let any US citizens, their spouse and anyone in their group to return. With no quarantine after they got into the the US, his idea was they “China Flu” only impacted Chinese.

The COVID-19 virus was all over the US; it was US citizens that spread it to every corner of the country. 4% of the population and over 30% of the cases and growing,

Trump is only in it for the money. Your life does not impact his money.

stanleybmanly's avatar

By this time, does anyone require journalistic inquiry or commentary to form an opinion of Trump? Our dog and wulf are about the best apologists for the fool that you are likely to see, and what a hopeless burden they bear.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Zaku – I understand what you’re saying. But I do think the culture doesn’t arise from nowhere. I understand how we have the current culture, even if I don’t agree with it. I understand why people don’t have an ideological foundation in which to understand actual events and the world.

But I don’t blame them necessarily. These people are our’s if we want them. It will take work, but many of these lost people are working people and the poor that have been handed over (or pushed) to the white nationalist right (Republicans).

Anyway, as “rigid” as it may seem, I do think it’s important to uphold certain values, such as transparency and journalistic integrity. Even if it falls on understandably deaf ears.

janbb's avatar

I still would like to hear Woodward’s reasoning before deciding about his “journalistic integrity.” I remember his and Bernstein’s work in bringing down Nixon.

kritiper's avatar

To those who would fault Woodward for wanting to make a buck, if that was his sole purpose, or whatever:
We are a society of capitalists. We like to make money. It’s what we do.

Zaku's avatar

@Darth_Algar @kritiper Not all Americans are selfish and/or primarily driven by money-fixations. Those are part of what I meant by “ignorance, madness, and corruption”.

@hmmmmmm I agree with you. I just think the conversations aiming blame for deaths on this reporter seem like distractions and scapegoating. And I’m not interested enough in the details to learn what I’d need to (and I expect the details of his considerations aren’t publicly available anyway) in order to pass such a judgement.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Zaku: “I just think the conversations aiming blame for deaths on this reporter seem like distractions and scapegoating.”

I actually think you have this backward. Woodward was objectively in the wrong here, and if he had acted like a journalist, it’s reasonable to assume that some lives could have been saved. But it’s not shifting the blame or scapegoating at all. In fact, if we are to be upset with Woodward, it’s only because he was complicit in a crime. Trump’s crime.

If we brush off this journalism scandal as irrelevant, we by definition give Trump a pass. And that is unacceptable.

Zaku's avatar

Again, I’m sorry but I can’t muster the interest to research enough about that to feel qualified to get into it. I may have given up on US mainstream journalism long ago. Certainly after Trump entered office and started doing non-stop ridiculous nonsense, lies, sabotage of government departments and evironmental protections, and corporate giveaways, and almost none of them were calling him out on it. It also seems to me that there have been many stories pointing out that much of Trump’s behavior around the virus was ridiculous, dishonest, and leading to many more deaths, for months now. Hopefully this one will get more traction in the wheels of idiocy… er, public opinion.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@hredundantms nice volley!

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Zaku “Not all Americans are selfish and/or primarily driven by money-fixations.”

Then it’s a good thing I didn’t claim that.

AlaskaTundrea's avatar

I will admit upfront to not having read all the comments, so excuse me if I’m being repetitious. But…. why are some trying to deflect the blame to Woodward? Trump had the info first and, duh, he’s the president, not Woodward. Why aren’t we holding Donald Trump’s hand to the fire for withholding info that could have saved lives, info he had, possibly long before Woodward. Trump is the one who swore on a Bible to protect the American people, so shouldn’t he be the one to be responsible? Had Woodward released it early, without taking time to prove details, he’d have just been called “fake news” and attacked by those who go through verbal contortions, often seemingly thinking they’re fooling us all, rather than being taken seriously. Let’s face it, aside from those in the office with Trump and Woodward at the time of some of the interviews, none of us knew how deadly covid-19 was going to be. We knew it was going to be bad but, even while I believed and accepted that, I know I didn’t think it’d be this deadly or long lasting. Now we know, thus making the news that Trump seemingly knew and accepted this knowledge as true many, many months ago but did nothing but call it a hoax.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Without reading the above comments, I can definitely say that the timing of this stinks of politics…..

kritiper's avatar

It’s difficult to say that all Americans (or anyone else) is all one thing or another. Obviously we all speak in general terms, a given. (?)

LostInParadise's avatar

You’ve all got this wrong. Trump is so misunderstood. What he did was to keep people from panicking. He even made up a story about Winston Churchill to get his point across (the truth?, who needs it?). You have to ask yourself what is more important, being alive or avoiding panic. What good is it to be alive if you get jittery all the time? Trump in his great wisdom decided it was best to keep people calm by playing down the virus and letting them die en masse peacefully.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Nailed IT ! @LostInParadise

400,000 deaths by the end of year in the US, New Zealand has 22 deaths for COVID-19 (they are 1/60th the size of the US). If Trump did what New Zealand did we would have only 1,320 deaths ?

What is wrong with him and his followers? 1,320 deaths versus 400,000 deaths from COVID-19. Oh New Zealand didn’t “panic”.

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