Pelley: It might disappoint some of your fans that you reach an editorial conclusion at the end of this book, something that reporters are not supposed to do.
Woodward: Yes. I say the President is the wrong man for the job.
Pelley: But, you’re known as the reporter who doesn’t put his thumb on the scale. And yet, at the end of this book, you do just that.
Woodward: It’s a conclusion based on evidence, overwhelming evidence, that he could not rise to the occasion with the virus and tell the truth. And one of the things that President Trump told me, ‘In the presidency, there’s always dynamite behind the door.’ The real dynamite is President Trump. He is the dynamite.
Pelley is right that Woodward has built a reputation — over his work breaking Watergate as well as his more recent book-length chronicles of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — as the ultimate objective observer. Woodward’s ability to gain such close — and extended — access to the most powerful politicians in America is based on the idea that he is a fly on the wall; he reports, you decide (or something).
That Woodward broke with that longstanding tradition in this book is a very big deal. And one we should examine more closely.
Woodward told Pelley that he came to the conclusion that the President “is the wrong man for the job” because of “overwhelming evidence that he could not rise to the occasion with the virus and tell the truth.”
The virus in question is Covid-19, which has sickened more than 6.5 million Americans and killed 194,000 — the highest totals, on both fronts, of any country in the world. As Woodward documents in his book, Trump knew that the virus was worse than he was publicly letting on as early as January. And in March, the President told Woodward that he “wanted to always play [the threat posed by the coronavirus] down” and “still like[d] playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
As recently as Sunday night, Trump was still seemingly in denial about the ongoing threat posed by Covid-19 — holding a large indoor campaign rally in Nevada in direct defiance of the state’s rules against indoor gatherings of more than 50 people. (Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak blasted Trump’s decision to hold the event as “reckless and selfish.”)
All of which brings me to the real point here: Facts are not a partisan position.
It is a FACT, for example, that masks are one of the best (and only) weapons we have against the spread of the coronavirus. President Trump has repeatedly attempted to undermine mask-wearing and refused, with very few exceptions, to be photographed wearing one.
It is a FACT that ingesting disinfectants or taking hydroxychloroquine are not scientifically sound measures to treat the coronavirus. Trump has speculated publicly about disinfectants and pushed, time and time again, hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment.
It is a FACT that large indoor gatherings have, in the past, shown the potential to be super-spreader events for Covid-19. And yet, Trump held his event Sunday night in Nevada.
It is a FACT that social distancing — six feet of distance between individuals — can help limit the spread of the virus. On Sunday night as well as on a number of other occasions, including his acceptance speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention late last month, Trump has held events in which attendees are packed cheek to jowl.
Saying that Trump does not adhere to — or even acknowledge — known facts about a virus that is projected to kill, according to one model, more than 400,000 Americans by January 1, 2021, is not Woodward taking some sort of ideological position. It’s him doing what he has done throughout his career: Gathering facts and following them where they lead.
In this case, the facts lead Woodward to a conclusion that is both inevitable and terrifying: The person tasked with leading our country through the greatest public health crisis in a century “is the wrong man for the job.”