WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump flooded the Fox News airwaves and launched a Twitter rant on Thursday in an attempt to ride out damage from interviews he gave to journalist Bob Woodward in the bombshell new book, Rage.
First there was a late night call-in with his friend, Fox News personality Sean Hannity. Early on Thursday, he followed up with a Fox News radio interview focused on his nomination by a right-wing member of Norway’s parliament for the Nobel Peace Prize, something he called “a great thing for our country”.
And then there were the tweets -- dozens fired in wildly random directions, from extolling the “good health” of North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un to criticising Woodward and retweeting a fan whose dress he admired at a recent election rally.
Trump plans to continue his PR blitz with another rally in Michigan.
Despite the bluster, President Trump’s taped admission to Woodward that he played down the coronavirus crisis in public, while being aware of the unique danger from the disease, has set off alarm bells less than eight weeks before election day.
Woodward’s book is filled with startling episodes, including the assessment by Donald Trump’s then director of national intelligence, the respected Dan Coats, that the president “doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie”.
But the segments in which Trump candidly discusses the coronavirus pandemic -- which has by now killed almost 200,000 Americans -- are getting the most attention.
Despite openly describing to Woodward the scary characteristics of the then unknown virus, Trump said “I wanted to always play it down”.
Trump went on to explain that he wanted to avoid causing panic, but his acknowledgement that he was deliberately failing to tell the country the unvarnished truth has started a firestorm.
“He knew how deadly it was,” Democratic opponent Joe Biden said.
“He lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”
Can’t shoot the messenger
President Trump usually fights criticism by blaming what he calls “the fake news” and claiming that unnamed sources commonly used in White House reporting don’t exist.
But shoot the messenger won’t work in the case of Rage. The shocking revelations rely mostly on Trump himself and Woodward -- famous for bringing down Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal -- has published recordings.
In one dig at Woodward on Thursday, Trump tweeted that if the legendary reporter thought that the quotes were “so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives?”
“Because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!” Trump argued.
Quite why Trump would grant Woodward so much access in an election year, however, is a question many in Washington are asking.
Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2020