There’s really good news about the coronavirus in the United States. You aren’t hearing it because it is good news. You must go back to June to find comparable numbers in the 7-day moving average. Even as schools reopen, we are trending downward. We should be happy. In three weeks, if Labor Day has caused a spike in the virus, we’ll be flooded with coverage.
The media in the United States is all about outrage these days. On television, the talking heads must be a virulently anti-Trump Democrat versus a virulently pro-Trump Republican. Nuance is not appreciated. There can be no delight in our public discourse these days. It must be tribally us versus tribally them and any fool who dares to suggest there’s more is just that, a fool.
Rage is the game.
Rage is also the name of Bob Woodward’s new book and I want to cut short to the chase.
If you hate the President, this book will affirm for you everything you believe about the President. If you love the President, this book will affirm for you everything you believe about the Washington elite and press.
What will be mostly left unsaid and ignored is a very basic point.
For the purposes of this column, I will use TL;DR headlines, which stands for “Too Long; Didn’t Read.” You can skim the italicized nuggets, but you should digest the whole. Now, to that very basic point…
Here’s Your TL;DR Important Point 1 👇
The President purportedly withheld the bad news of the virus to avoid a panic and in so doing misled, failed to lead, and cost American lives. An American reporter had all of this on tape and withheld this very newsworthy item even as bodies were piling up in freezer trucks parked by overrun morgues just so he could make a buck.
My outrage is exhausted over all angles of this story except this one — a self-aware and self-reflective media would be absolutely crucifying Bob Woodward for withholding these audio records as American bodies piled up, but like vultures, maggots, catfish, and other carrion-eating animals, they’ll continue picking at the corpse of virus coverage instead of ever turning on their own.
The American news media is less trusted and less popular than either the President of the United States or a turd floating in a pool and this is why.
Bob Woodward could have released the tapes after concluding his interviews with the President. He chose instead to hold on to them for money.
This is becoming a uniquely Washington phenomenon. John Bolton could have bolted the White House when it became clear the President was turning a blind eye to genocide in China. But he held on until forced out because he considered himself valuable and important and wanted to cash in with a tell-all book.
James Comey now wants to be a hero champion of American women and sell books while refusing to acknowledge his own mishandling of his job. Andrew McCabe gets a CNN contract. Peter Strzok will be out next.
But none of them, except Bob Woodward, has a body count and Woodward’s is bordering on 200,000 just so he could sell a pre-election book.
Again, if the media were self-reflective instead of self-absorbed, he’d be called to account. Outside of Fox News, I suspect the issue will be touched on only tangentially, though undoubtedly Reliable Sources on CNN will serve as an apologist because Orange Man Bad and anyone who opposes Trump is a hero on that show.
This actually infuriates me. The Associated Press got Woodward on record and Woodward boldly claims he had to wait to make sure it was all true. Coincidentally, that wait came to an end right before his book’s publication. I have no doubt a few fair reporters will seize on this issue, but they’ll be in the minority.
The media has picked sides on this story. Andrew Cuomo is the hero. Any Republican Governor is bad. While Ron DeSantis was protecting senior citizens, Cuomo was sending them to their deaths with his brother committing verbal incest with him on the nightly news.
It is gross and Woodward is going to get a pass in ways he shouldn’t with people he shouldn’t.
None of this is to excuse the President, but I want to say some stuff before I get to him.
Here’s Your TL;DR Important Point 2 👇
We are dealing with a virus that came from China that we only have eight solid months of familiarity with and the data, knowledge, and information about it has changed dramatically in that time. Concurrently, we are not in a unitary state but have fifty semi-sovereign nations over which the President of the United States has very limited power. Many of the demands related to presidential action include demands for mask mandates and shutdowns and even Joe Biden acknowledges the President has no authority for either.
The President is not perfect and did make mistakes, but many of the partisans who would savage the President are people who would not have believed him if he did say the virus was a threat because, at the time, he was going through impeachment and they would have accused him of trying to distract people from impeachment.
This isn’t hypothetical. They did it with the killing of Sulemani and they did it with the travel ban to China. They would not have taken him seriously. They attacked him as a racist for the travel ban. They used the World Health Organization’s contradictory information to challenge the President’s claims.
Also, it is worth noting that in February, St. Anthony Fauci and others were also claiming the virus was not going to be bad, there was no community spread, and no one had to wear masks. Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco and New York health officials were urging people to go out, hang out, celebrate Chinese New Year, and not worry. Louisiana Democrats were urging people to show up for Mardi Gras and DeBlasio was preparing for St. Patrick’s Day.
To make the President own the fifty state fallout from a global pandemic from China is not only unfair, but intellectually dishonest. It also ignores that other countries, including some that were far more aggressive than the United States in trying to control the virus had worse per capita outcomes and also some of those countries are seeing new spikes.
Most notably, the United States is really fifty semi-sovereign nations where the real healthcare and police powers reside with Governors. But to honestly acknowledge this would require putting some blame on Democrat governors at a time the media only cares that Orange Man Bad, not Cuomo.
Here’s Your TL;DR Important Point 3 👇
The President was right, instinctively, to not want to create a panic. Americans faced shortages of meats, bread, flour, paper products, dairy products, eggs, and more. If the President had been as bold as revisionists now demand he should have been, we would not have ramped up production. That is a fairy tale. No, we would have had even worse shortages. People would have hoarded more than they did and made more panic buying decisions. Also, the devastated economy would have been even more devastated.
As an aside, one of the few things that seriously aggravates me right now is the amount of invective from both the left and the media about the President destroying the economy. Like so much of the commentary and analysis on the virus, it piles on to the President all blame while ignoring there’s this thing called a virus, this thing called a global pandemic, and most of the rest of the world is now similarly situated but governors like Brian Kemp who competently reopened his state are the bad guys. In fact, we now know that Governor Kemp reopening Georgia had nothing to do with the virus spreading. It was Memorial Day partiers and protestors. Unfortunately, to correct that story would require humility in the media, an organization that won’t push a reporter on why he kept quiet about conversations with the President while 200,000 people died.
Here’s Your TL;DR Important Point 4 👇
Unfortunately, it is also a fact that the virus began spreading during the Democrats’ ridiculous impeachment farce. Just as with the President banning travel to China, if the President had raised the alarm about the virus, Democrats would have claimed the President was seeking to distract from impeachment. The media would have helped.
You can disagree all you want, but deep down you absolutely know this is true and those of you who deny it lack intellectual honesty.
Here’s Your TL;DR Important Point 5 👇
It is also a fact the President could have done more and done better. We now do have the Woodward tapes. We know now the President knew the virus was more deadly than the flu by at least a factor of five. We know now the President knew the virus was transmitted through airborne particles. We know now the President knew how bad the situation was getting in China. We know the President’s own National Security Advisor told him this would be the biggest national security threat of his tenure in office.
We have the President recounting these things in his own voice.
President Trump’s supporters often like to say no one would have really done things differently. Or they raise the question openly about what could anyone else have really done. After all, it is a virus about which we knew little and if the President had sparked a panic, we really would have seen major shortages.
But the President could have operated more assertively with a clearer message.
The President could have privately briefed governors with the information about the virus being airborne and being way more deadly than the flu. The President could have been more assertive against his own side that has long insisted the virus is no worse than the flu. The President directly contradicted that information in his conversations with Woodward as early as February 7, two days after the impeachment trial concluded.
The President could have not sent mixed messages on masks for so long, particularly after acknowledging to Woodward that the virus was airborne.
The President could have stopped being so dismissive of the virus and claiming it would just go away. Doing that gave a lot of people false hope and allowed them to be dismissive of the virus even as the bodies piled up. Doing that emboldened the President’s own supporters to push out fringe conspiracies, dismiss the data, and otherwise sow seeds of doubt about what the President and his team knew.
The President could have asserted himself as a leader with better guidelines and guidance for states to control both shutdowns and reopenings earlier on as the prevailing consensus within his administration took shape — again as reflected in his conversations with Bob Woodward.
In early February, just as one example, Sanjay Gupta was on CNN raising all sorts of red flags about the coronavirus and loudly insisting the Trump Administration needed to be more engaged more rapidly. Gupta continued, through February, expressing his concerns that the administration was not doing enough to provide clear guidance and was muddying the messages. Gupta was not alone. Scott Gottlieb and others too were already getting public and warning about the rise of the conspiracists and viral deniers by the end of February. In fact, we know from the President’s own mouth he knew how bad things were but intentionally wanted to downplay them.
There were a bunch of things the President could have done differently. In short, the President could have led, but that would have required him to stand up to and contradict vocal conspiracy theorists on his own side that he did not want to alienate.
Here’s Your TL;DR Important Point 6 👇
The President was a dumbass for talking to Bob Woodward.
Here’s Your TL;DR Important Point 7 👇
It is also worth noting that based on the Woodward tapes, many of the things the President could have done differently would have been based on his actual knowledge of the virus at the time.
But we also need to humbly acknowledge we are dealing with a virus for which the Chinese covered up key data, the data changed over time, the President had limited powers to deal with a public health emergency among fifty states, and a whole lot of other people got it wrong too and made poor decisions.
Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio are far more responsible for the death toll in New York than Donald Trump is. The media and Democrats genuinely have become fixated on Orange Man Bad and lack the capacity to acknowledge how much we know now that we did not know then. They have no capacity to acknowledge impeachment was a distraction and so much of the late January and early February operations of the White House and Congress were framed around impeachment narratives. The virus would have been too.
It is tempting for partisans on the left to blame it all on the President. It is tempting for partisans on the right to defend the President at all costs. But…
The Bottom Line
We are eight months into dealing with a global pandemic caused by a virus from China about which the Chinese and World Health Organization sent mixed and misleading messages and for which there is no cure. The President had limited capacity to manage the virus at the state level and had a responsibility to manage the economy as well. The bottom line is that the virus and pandemic are way more complex than our partisan tribal tendencies want to allow and we should be sparing in heaping blame anywhere given how the situation unfolded.
Yes, the President could have done things better or differently, but yes we know a lot of that now in hindsight. The same goes for Andrew Cuomo. The same goes for other nations. The same goes for the media. The same goes for Bob Woodward who kept so much quiet so he could cash in on the mountain of American corpses that piled around him while he wrote.