This year, the coronavirus pandemic has killed 196,000 Americans and made over 6 million ill, likely causing many long-term health consequences. Since the beginning, President Donald Trump has attempted to act as though the pandemic wasn’t really as bad as everyone thought, saying it would clear up in April, saying we’d have a vaccine earlier than is possible, saying the increased number of cases were simply due to testing more people than other countries rather than more people being sick.
Last week, Bob Woodward, who is best known for his work on exposing the Watergate Scandal that ended President Richard Nixon’s career, went on Stephen Colbert’s show and showed a clip from February, where President Trump says the coronavirus is “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” and explains that it is airborne.
But the topic today isn’t Trump’s many lies; everyone knows he lies. He lies constantly, about everything, about things that make literally no difference in the world at all, like the crowd at his inauguration or that he won the popular vote. Trump lying is not a surprise. What is a surprise is the horrific breach of journalist ethics by Woodward in deciding to not release these recordings when he got them, instead keeping them until his book was coming out.
Woodward’s book “Rage” is of course about Donald Trump. It is his second book on the subject; his first, “Fear: Trump in the White House” came out in 2018. Within “Rage,” Woodward, who is without question one of the best known journalists in the history of the United States, seeks to further explore Trump’s presidency especially in this unprecedented global pandemic. And that is fine, good even. There are likely to be many, many books written about Trump’s handling of the pandemic in the future.
But to have these tapes, this information from the president himself that he was lying to the American people in order to try to not cause panic, and to not release these tapes at the time or at any moment after until his book was done is an obscene violation of the ethics of journalism. We do not serve as listeners to the government, stenographers, merely taking note of what happens without attempting to care.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have gotten sick, nearly 200,000 of them are dead, and Trump’s lies have been on tape for seven months? Woodward knew he was lying for seven months, knew that he knew he was lying and simply chose to not reveal that fact? It’s difficult for most people to fathom the idea that a journalist would think it ok to deny the public that information, information which could have saved lives.
To make the situation a little more absurd, Woodward “told the post that he didn’t make any agreement with Trump to withhold his remarks until the book was published.” This means that Woodward himself chose to not release the tapes and chose to instead wait until now, after seven months of a pandemic that has disrupted everyone’s lives, torpedoed the economy and killed over 900,000 people worldwide.
Woodward is still an associate editor at the Washington Post, where he has worked for nearly 50 years. That means that not only did he have these tapes, proving that President Trump knew that he was lying to the American public, he had the resources to release this information to the general public easily with the Washington Post. Can you imagine the headlines if Bob Woodward had released more information about more terrible things that a president was doing?
Journalists have an obligation to the American People to inform them of matters that are important. That has been confirmed in the past, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors,” Justice Black said in 1971. “The press was protected so that it could bear the secrets of government and inform the people.” Bob Woodward has failed in that essential duty. He did not reveal the secrets of the government, he protected a president who has caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Donald Trump is not who the free press was meant to protect. Woodward has had a long, distinguished career. He is a good journalist, as everyone has known since the Watergate Scandal. But this moment, watching history pass by with rising death counts and permanent injuries, if Bob Woodward could’ve done anything to prevent that in any way, he had a duty to. And he did. He knew. Bob Woodward has had a successful career but this is, without a question, his biggest failure.