Multiple recorded interviews of President Trump with journalist Bob Woodward were leaked by the Washington Post on Wednesday, September 9th. The tapes revealed Trump confessing to not only knowing the danger and severity of the coronavirus back in February, but admitting to wanting to downplay Covid-19. The audio recorded in February revealed Trump saying, “It’s a very tricky situation. It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch, the touch you don’t have to touch things, but the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.....It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus” (1:27 of the linked video).
Then the interview on March 19th showed President Trump making statements such as, “I wanted to always play it down,” and “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” In the March audio, Trump also said, "Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just older…Young people too, plenty of young people" (0:17), when referring to who the virus could infect and impact. The audios have stirred up controversy around the same time of these interviews, when President Trump publicly declared the virus would disappear “like a miracle” and compared the coronavirus to the flu on Twitter, arguing that Covid-19 hadn’t killed as many people in the US as the common flu does. He would also publicly state that children were "almost immune" to Covid-19 on August 5th, when the tapes disclosed that Trump knew the virus posed a threat to young people. Then on Tuesday, September 15th another audio taken on April 13th of President Trump was released, where he stated “This thing is a killer if it gets you. If you’re the wrong person, you don’t have a chance.” He adds “So this rips you apart….It is the plague.”
President Trump responded to the audio at a White House event, saying that he only downplayed the virus to not create mass panic and that he wanted to show confidence and strength in the face of this deadly virus. The leaked audios are terrifying as it reveals how the President knew about how dangerous the virus was and yet decided to keep this valuable information private. Experts say that Trump’s response to the virus, specifically his public comments, fueled the outbreak in the United States. Trump’s attitude towards Covid-19 established a sense of complacency among the public and local politicians, as many were under the guise that the virus wasn’t a huge issue [Lopez, Vox, 2020]. As a result, there was push back and a lack of urgency when it came to sanctioning necessary public health measures against Covid-19 like social distancing, testing, and masking. Currently, there have been 190,500 deaths from Coronavirus and there are 6,354,800 + reported cases of the virus according to Johns Hopkins University.
This new information poses the question: if information about the coronavirus had been made known to the public earlier, would Covid-19 be less widespread and possibly prevented some deaths? Researchers at Columbia University shed some light on this as they created a model that mapped out the transmission of Covid-19 through the United States from March 15 to May 3 [Ebrahimji, CNN, 2020]. Jeffery Shaman, the lead researcher and epidemiologist stated, “If the country had locked down two weeks earlier than it did, it could have prevented 84% of deaths and 82% of cases, according to the research.” The researchers at Columbia wrote in their report, “Our findings underscore the importance of early intervention and aggressive response in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic,” [Ebrahimji, CNN, 2020].
Additionally, it is important to note the person responsible for leaking the recorded interviews and what his ulterior motives may be. Bob Woodward released the tapes to promote and build hype for his upcoming book “Rage”. Woodward is an investigative journalist, who is well-known for being the first to report and expose the Watergate scandal. Some would argue that Woodward is somewhat guilty for withholding valuable information about the coronavirus and only leaking them now for personal gain. However, it’s possible that Woodward may have signed an NDA, since the interviews were a part of his book, which prevented him from releasing the audio’s until now. Furthermore by releasing the tapes, Woodward risked his safety and put his life on the line, which could have been a factor in contributing to his decision. Regardless of Woodward’s possible ulterior motives, these released audios reveal an unsettling truth about our country’s leadership in the time of a pandemic.