Thank goodness President Trump resisted the most panicked authoritarian responses to Covid-19 imposed by some U.S. governors. But he’s now facing questions over a Feb. 7 interview, included in a new Bob Woodward book, in which Mr. Trump said that Covid was deadlier than the flu.
Much of the press corps is attacking Mr. Trump on the grounds that the comments painted a more dire picture than he was sharing publicly at the time. A number of journalists are also questioning why Mr. Woodward didn’t publish the comments at the time, given that they might have improved public understanding of the new infectious threat. To address this latter question, Mr. Woodward spoke to his Washington Post colleague Margaret Sullivan, the newspaper’s media columnist. She writes:
In February, what Trump told Woodward seemed hard to make sense of, the author told me — back then, Woodward said, there was no panic over the virus; even toward the final days of that month, Anthony S. Fauci was publicly assuring Americans there was no need to change their daily habits.
Let’s hope that promoting a sense of panic is not the test of whether a leader is seriously addressing a national issue. But was it really so hard to comprehend the President’s comments? The interview occurred a week after Mr. Trump had imposed restrictions on travel between the U.S. and China. The day after the new Trump travel policy was announced, former Vice President Joe Bidentweeted:
We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.
In hindsight, the Trump travel restrictions seem eminently sensible and the same could be said for the restrictions on travel he subsequently imposed on Europe. Do presidents typically order flight cancellations over illnesses they believe to be less deadly than the flu?
The day before the Woodward interview, Laurent Thomet of Agence France-Presse reported: