The Pandemic Diary: Woodward and Trump

Between February 10, 2020 and May 27, 2020, I kept a daily diary chronicling my thoughts, impressions, fears, anxieties, and outrages in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. It ended up being over 120,000 words worth of personal therapy for me but I stopped updating it once doing so ceased to be therapeutic and, instead, began to anger me and fill me with despair. I am, however, updating it once in a while, when warranted.

September 9: Today it was revealed that President Trump admitted months and months ago to Bob Woodward that he concealed critical details he knew about COVID-19 and that he “wanted to always play it down.”

“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on February 7. It was “Pretty amazing,” Trump told Woodward, that the coronavirus was maybe “five times more deadly” than the flu. The president’s words, all on tape, reveal a level of detailed knowledge and understanding of the threat that is, frankly, shocking given how ill-informed and addle-minded he so often appears to be.

The main takeaway from this should, obviously, be the fact that Trump has now been conclusively proven to have committed an act that, were he not immune from criminal process by virtue of his office, would and should lead to a prosecution for mass negligent homicide. Seriously, if he were a CEO and he was saying that about health hazards his company created that led to thousands of preventable deaths, he’d literally be arrested, even in a country like ours, which goes easy on such things. If this were a different country than the one it is — if this were some late-80s Eastern European autocracy or some mid-century Latin American country ruled by a tyrannical strongman — mobs bashing in the door of the Imperial Palace and frog-marching the Dear Leader before a firing squad would not be out of the realm of possibility. Because he is president, however, and because this is America, however, this will be treated as a political matter.

To be sure, it’s a political matter no sane person shouldn’t have had their mind made up about months ago. Maybe I left a smidgen of room open in my mind which allowed for Trump being too dumb to understand what he was faced with and too shitty a person to care, but that’s not fundamentally different from what he’s now been found to have truly done. It’s more evil than incompetent now — this is evidence of clear calculation with apparent knowledge of the risks we faced as opposed to fingers-in-the-ears defiance — but we knew in March that he was not going to do jack shit to protect the country, at which point a sane U.S. Congress would’ve impeached and removed him anyway. This is damning, yes, but in my assessment, Trump was well beyond damned well before now.

Then there’s the secondary takeaway: the journalistic one. The one in which Bob Woodward sat on the tape of the President of the United States admitting that he was hiding and lying about the danger of the pandemic from the beginning. Sitting on it because he was writing a book that he wants to be a bestseller and knowing that this would be the juiciest part of it so, hey, why let the cat out of the bag?

I know there are some people who will say it wouldn’t have made a difference, but I’m not at all sure about that. I chronicled the failure of America to deal with pandemic in real time between February and the end of May in this very diary and the one thing that was abundantly clear throughout that time was that nearly every public official in the country who followed Trump’s irresponsible lead and every single Clay Travis/Alex Berenson-style Pandemic Truther cum grifter who spewed misinformation did so in large part and sometimes in whole part by relying on the president’s words and acts. There was always the appeal to the top either out of loyalty to Trump, out of fear of Trump, or out of opportunism, using Trump’s followers’ loyalty to Trump as a lever.

While Trump himself is somehow able to exist in a fantasy world where up is down, most people aren’t. If Trump’s deadly, deceitful words were known in March or April instead of only now, the grifters, the truthers, the Republican governors and all of the sketchy people who have run interference for them and relied on them would not have been able to use their “it’s just like the flu” or “this is easily controllable” rebop as a shield. They would not have been able to simply say, as they did, that they trusted the president and thereby end the conversation. Because they were able to do that — because there was pyramid of COVID-19 bullshit built on the immovable foundation of support for Trump by enough people to make it messy — thousands upon thousands of people have died. And will continue to die, because the tractor tire started rolling down the hill months ago, and we’re all inside of it.

I’m sure Bob Woodward, as he makes the rounds promoting his book in the coming days, has a defense for all of that. Maybe it’s a technical, journalistic one dealing with embargoed interviews and promises not to use what he learned in anything other than a published book or what have you. Maybe it’s a broader one in which he claims that releasing the smoking gun evidence of the President’s treachery before now, absent the rest of his reporting, would’ve proven ineffective or possibly even dangerous. I have no idea.

I’m pretty sure, however, that I wouldn’t buy either of those defenses because (a) I can conceive of no tenet of journalistic ethics that a moral person wouldn’t or shouldn’t happily burn if they knew it would expose the President of the United States lying about literal matters of life and death; and (b) Woodward’s own history shows that real-time reporting of presidential malfeasance abso-fucking-lutely matters.

Until then, I’ll just sit back in awe and wonder at the irony of what may very well be Bob Woodward’s final major act on the public stage being one in which he argues that, when it came to tapes incriminating the President of the United States, it was the right thing to conceal them rather than to release them.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.