(CNN)Seeking refuge amid a blizzard of negative press coverage over comments he made to Bob Woodward about purposely downplaying the threat from the coronavirus in March, President Donald Trump went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Wednesday night in hopes of explaining himself.
It didn’t go well.Unlike Hannity’s usual approach of ignoring the big news of the day when interviewing the President, he actually led off with the news of Woodward’s book and even noted that he was “surprised” that Trump talked to Woodward, the legendary Washington Post journalist, because “I don’t think a lot of good comes from talking to Bob Woodward.” (Here’s why Trump did it.)Then Hannity asked Trump directly why he decided to participate in the Woodward book. To which Trump said this (bolding is mine):”Well, first of all, on the Woodward book, on the book itself, he called. He — I didn’t participate in his last one.Read More”And he does hit you, obviously, with everybody. He even did it on Obama, but constant hit jobs.”On Bush, I guess they did three books. They were all terrible. So, I figured, you know, let’s just give it a little shot. I’ll speak to him. It wasn’t a big deal. I speak to him, and let’s see.”I don’t know if the book is good or bad. I have no idea. Probably, almost definitely won’t read it, because I don’t have time to read it.”Wait, what? Like, genuinely, what?So, according to Trump, Woodward does “constant hit jobs.” Which begs the questions: Why would you sit down with someone like that for an interview? Or, in the case of Trump and Woodward, 18 separate interviews — every one of which Woodward recorded. (Nota bene: Woodward doesn’t write “constant hit jobs.” He writes deeply reported studies of presidents in office. And not for nothing, Woodward wrote four books about George W. Bush.)Then there’s this Trump contention: He “probably, almost definitely” won’t read Woodward’s “Rage” because he doesn’t “have time to read it.”Which is funny! Because Trump did have the time to do 18 — EIGHTEEN — interviews with Woodward between December 5, 2019 and July 21, 2020. It feels like those eight months were a pretty busy time for Trump too — what with a pandemic raging across the country, sickening millions of Americans and going on to kill more than 190,000.
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And yet, he says he won’t read the Woodward book because he doesn’t have the time!This is all — in case you hadn’t figured it out yet — totally and completely ridiculous.Trump participated — and boy did he participate — with Woodward because a) he wasn’t part of Woodward’s first book about his administration, “Fear,” b) he is obsessed with is legacy and c) Woodward is a star and Trump likes stars. He gave Woodward SO much time because he viewed Woodward as someone who could re-write the concurrent history of his administration, tell the “real” story of how much great stuff he has actually done. Or, in the words of Trump himself: “I figured, you know, let’s just give it a little shot.”What Trump is now engaged in — and the Hannity interview was the leading edge of this strategy — is a desperate attempt to downplay, de-legitimize and distract from the incredibly damaging allegations contained in Woodward’s book. He’s not even going to read it! It’s a total hit job because that’s all Woodward does! Look over there, not over here!To that last point, check out Trump’s tweet Thursday morning: “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!”Yes, there’s definitely a journalistic ethics question about whether Woodward (or the Post) should have written in real time that Trump knew Covid-19 was worse than was being publicly reported and actively downplayed the threat it posed. (WaPo’s Margaret Sullivan wrote a smart piece about that here.) But the main issue is that the President of the United States purposely downplayed the seriousness of a virus that has killed almost 200,000 Americans. That’s THE story. And it’s one that Trump knows is absolutely disastrous for his already flagging reelection campaign. Which is why he is throwing all sorts of excuses and rationales for why he did what he did — whether it’s in talking to Woodward in the first place or what he told Woodward about the coronavirus.Don’t lose forest for the trees here. Trump made time — lots and lots of time — to talk to Woodward because he thought he could convince the veteran journalist that the narrative about his presidency was wrong. Instead, Trump wound up doing the opposite — admitting that he concealed what he knew about a remarkably deadly virus from the American people. Period. End of story.