President Trump, appearing at a town hall event in Philadelphia hosted by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday, sought to rewrite history by insisting he never downplayed the risks of COVID-19, despite the existence of audio recordings in which he explicitly told journalist Bob Woodward that downplaying the virus was his preferred strategy.
In recorded interviews between Woodward and Trump released last week, Trump told the journalist back in March he had “wanted to always play it down” regarding the dangers of the virus, although he had described the coronavirus as “deadly” to Woodward in a prior interview just a month before. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
When asked to explain those comments on Tuesday evening, Trump denied that he had minimized the seriousness of the disease in his public statements.
“Well I didn’t downplay it,” Trump responded. “I actually in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”
In a special @ABC2020, Pres. Trump disputes uncommitted voter who asked why he downplayed a virus that has disproportionately affected communities of ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 16, 2020
The president then went on to defend his actions on coronavirus since COVID-19 reached the U.S., saying his administration has done a “tremendous job, actually” when it comes to responding to the pandemic. “It’s something that I don’t think has been recognized like it should,” he added.
When pressed on the point about his admission to downplaying the disease, Trump again denied he had said it, despite the Woodward recordings, and quickly deflected the conversation to the travel “bans” he had implemented, falsely claiming that the travel bans proved he had acted decisively to control the spread of COVID.
While it’s true that Trump banned most forms of travel from China early on and announced a ban on travel from Europe on March 11, many experts understood that such bans on their own wouldn’t do much to mitigate the disease’s spread. In fact, one of Trump’s pandemic response team members at the time even called the European ban a “poor use of time and energy.”
In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on Wednesday, Woodward reiterated Trump’s admission to him about downplaying the urgency around COVID and faulted the president for his inadequate response to the pandemic, which has cost over 200,000 American lives.
“If he’d been honest and shared the truth in some form, we would be in a completely different position now. It is a monumental, catastrophic leadership failure,” Woodward said.
The veteran journalist added that, in his mind, Trump failed to “level” with the American people on the dangers of the disease. “And it’s absolutely tragic. It’s tragic for Donald Trump, for the country, for the 190,000 plus people who have died.”
Woodward himself has faced tough criticisms over his failure to fulfill his journalistic duty and inform the public earlier about Trump’s statements during his interviews with him. He has defended his own actions by suggesting he had to fact-check Trump’s words before he released them publicly.
Trump also faced criticism after his town hall event for pushing a controversial idea about how to handle the coronavirus, suggesting without any evidence that the disease could disappear on its own without even the use of a vaccine.
“You’ll develop — you’ll develop herd, like a herd mentality,” Trump explained to Stephanopoulos, likely meaning “herd immunity,” a belief that resistance to a disease can be created naturally by allowing as many individuals as possible to contract the illness. However, that practice is widely condemned by a number of agencies, including the World Health Organization, and many experts have described the intentional pursuit of herd immunity as being akin to eugenics.
“The ‘herd’ will survive, but for that to happen, other ‘weaker’ members of society need to be sacrificed,” anthropologists Vito Laterza and Louis Philippe Romer have pointed out.
As of Wednesday morning, the United States has witnessed 200,287 individuals die from COVID-19, with nearly 6.8 million having contracted the disease so far.