Woodward might be right with the law, but will he be right with history?
There was a time in this country when knowing about a serious crime and not reporting it was a crime in itself. “Misprision of felony,” it was called, and it was Common Law.
These days, “misprision of felony” is seldom applied, and to be successful, the prosecutor would need to prove that the accused did or knowingly failed to do something to aid the criminal or cover up the crime.
It’d be a stretch to argue that what investigative journalist and author Bob Woodward failed to do regarding Donald Trump’s knowledge of the severity of the coronavirus pandemic rises to that standard.
But that does not mean he did the right thing.
In these situations the questions are always who knew what and when. That was the case with Watergate, a cover-up that Woodward’s reporting helped expose, and it’s the case now with Trump, his minions and coronavirus.
The stakes are much higher this time; lives have been and continue to be lost. And this time, it’s not just Nixon and his henchmen we’re asking about; the questions are being applied to the reporter, as well.
Deflection is a Professional Political Sport
If we believe Trump committed a crime by not telling the American people what he knew about the seriousness of coronavirus, if you believe his actions to downplay the danger amount to manslaughter of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, and if you think he should have told us how severe everything was as soon as he knew, then what to think of Woodward?
Woodward’s book, “Rage,” which includes the revelations about what Trump knew when regarding coronavirus and Covid-19, is scheduled for public release tomorrow (Sept. 15, 2020). In it, he writes that Trump admitted in February to knowing about the potential severity of the pandemic. Which means Woodward knew then, as well.
There’s no doubt Trump, his cronies and supporters have latched on to this to deflect attention away from Trump’s failures.
“Woodward should have told us as soon as he knew!” right-wing commentators, especially, are screaming.
Gut reaction? Malarkey. Woodward wasn’t president at the time. Trump was. The suggestions that the journalist/author did something wrong by not reporting what he knew are simply attempts to deflect from Trump’s dereliction of duty.
It doesn’t matter how loudly they yell. They can’t change the fact more than 6.5 million U.S. citizens have contracted coronavirus, and more than 194,000 of them have died from Covid-19, all on Trump’s watch.
A Matter of Shared Responsibility
Woodward says he couldn’t be sure if Trump’s claims were true, and if so, where, when and from whom did Trump get the information? The journalist/author told The Washington Post last week that it took him three months to track down answers. By May he had them nailed down.
Still he sat on the information.
But that’s what Woodward does, argues The Post’s Erik Wemple:
“Anyone who has read Woodward’s books knows the goal here: Take a quote from the president, bathe it in context, describe the meetings and consultations that preceded it and drop it all in the finished product. All of which was to say that Woodward wasn’t going to take a few loose quotes from the president and publish them.”
However, that doesn’t address his responsibility to his fellow human beings.
Woodward didn’t break the law. He broke a sacred trust. He knew something that could have changed our circumstances for the better. He should have told us.
Would It Have Changed Anything?
Would anything have changed regarding the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, or would there have been fewer deaths due to Covid-19, if Woodward had shared in May what Trump knew?
I do not believe so.
Trump was worried about the economy and his reelection, not people. The blood still would have been on his hands.
But some things might have changed. A lot of people might not have been infected. Thousands might not have died. We’ll never know.
Woodward could have done the right thing, taken the high road, let the world know what he knew in May (or even February) and still published the book. He would have been clean.
He didn’t. Some of the spatter is on him, now, too.
We Always Have to Wait for the Book
Unfortunately, Woodward now can be mentioned in the same breath as others who sat on information during this disastrous presidential term, only to include it in books after it was too late to make a difference: Michael Cowen, Trump’s former personal attorney; John Bolton, his former national security adviser; and James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Trump.
Each of them should have told us what they knew when they knew it. Instead, they went for the book deal. They grabbed the money. They took the low road.
Woodward knew. He should have told us.
Legally guilty? No. Morally deficient? Yes.
He took the low road, too.
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Featured image by Markus Spiske via Unsplash