In a February interview Woodward conducted with Trump for the reporter's forthcoming book, "Rage," the president described the virus as "deadly stuff," even as he publicly compared it to seasonal flu. A month later, Trump admitted to Woodward that "I still like playing it [the virus] down, because I don’t want to create a panic."
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, whose paper published the audio of Trump's comments, tweeted Wednesday evening that he had interviewed Woodward and pressed him about the blowback he has received.
According to Wemple, when asked why he did not go public with Trump's comments about the virus being "deadly," Woodward explained he "didn't know where Trump was getting his information, whether it was true, and so on."
"It took him three months to nail down all the reporting about what Trump knew about coronavirus, when he learned it and how all that related to the public pronouncements he was making," Wemple tweeted of Woodward. "It wasn't until May that he put those pieces together."
According to the media critic, Woodward flatly denied that the content of his interviews with the president would have "saved lives" if they were publicized sooner.
"Asked directly whether earlier publication of his interviews would have saved lives, Woodward responded, 'No! How?'" Wemple wrote. "He pointed out that Trump made that comment on March 19, and he had already made an Oval Office address on March 11. Confirmed cases were taking off."
Wemple followed, "Woodward did say that if anything he gathered was a legitimate public health issue, he would have gone to The Post and sought to have it published forthwith. 'It wasn't. It wasn't,' he told me."
“Rage” was written after Trump spoke to Woodward – who is an associate editor for the paper – for 18 on-the-record interviews between December 2019 and July 2020. The Post reported Wednesday on passages from the book, including Woodward's discussions with the president.
While many were quick to slam Trump, others questioned why the Washington Post and Woodward sat on the information for over six months. The Post’s motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” but the paper’s famed editor apparently shelved key information until the week before Woodward’s book is set to hit stores.
“This should’ve been reported to the American people when he said it, not saved for the book,” one critic, Spectator U.S. Washington editor Amber Athey, wrote.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Wednesday that Trump agreed to the series of interviews because he is “the most transparent president in history."
McEnany also denied that Trump intentionally misled the American public about the threat of COVID-19.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “This president at a time when you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it is important to express confidence, it is important to express calm… the president has never lied to the American public on the threat of COVID."
Fox News' Brian Flood contributed to this report.