By: Anusha Bapat
Associate editor of the Washington Post, investigative journalist, and a writer of thirteen top-selling novels: does this description sound familiar? Let’s rephrase it a little. Bob Woodward, the same journalist of the Washington Post who broke Watergate, released tapes exposing Donald J. Trump’s admission of knowledge regarding the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic on September 10th after having them for several months. How about now? Did your mouth open wide? Did that little voice in your head yell out “oh him!”? Him indeed. Now, Woodward’s ethics and credibility is up for discussion.
Working for the Washington Post for over 49 years, Bob Woodward has become a highly respected journalist. But now, many are questioning his credibility, while criticizing Woodward for holding onto the tapes since January and deciding to push them out to the public right before the election, calling it a political agenda. It has been speculated that Woodward’s releasing of the tapes may have been used to sway the election in favor of Democrats. Woodward has since denied those claims, telling The Associated Press that he wanted to fact check Trump before pushing the tapes out to the public: “he tells me this and I’m thinking, ‘wow, that’s interesting, but is it true? Trump says things that don’t check out, right?’”. But what does this say about Bob Woodward and his credibility? Woodward should have fact checked Trump, but after sitting on the tapes for months, he had more than enough time to do that and inform the American public sooner.
With this information, the American public could have been aware of the dangers of the virus, while also being able to see through the “downplaying of the virus” on Trump’s end. The gatekeeping of these tapes may very well have contributed to the 200,000—in counting—deaths caused by COVID-19 in the US alone. So, what are the ethics of Woodward’s decision? Does fact-checking outweigh the benefits of giving out information that could save lives? In an interview with Vox Media, Bill Grueskin, a professor at Columbia’s School of Journalism, stated, “‘there’s that classic J-school ethics class problem, ‘what if a source tells you about a nuclear attack in 24 hours, off the record—what are you going to do?’ I don’t think there’s that much of a question. You try to save a million people.” Woodward could have warned the public. He could have warned us of what we were getting into months before the nation was in quarantine.
Woodward’s reputation was not utterly destroyed because as a journalist it’s your job to ensure true and accurate news is reported to the public to inform them on a daily basis. While some may argue that this is private and disclosed information, there is absolutely nothing private about a conversation containing information that could save hundreds of thousands of lives from a rapidly-spreading virus. In fact, as a journalist, it would be expected of him to call out the president and hold him accountable for his actions.
Bob Woodward’s poor decision to release these tapes after almost eight months from his interview with Trump makes us question if Woodward’s true motivation was to really inform Americans in order to save lives. If his intention was to simply expose Trump before the election, which was also a striking coincidence, it shows us Woodward’s true colors. For Woodward to even hesitate to release these tapes while watching the lives of individuals all over the nation be agonized from this deadly illness is cold and heartless. Families grieved, mourned, and wondered if their lives would ever be normal again after losing their loved ones. Meanwhile, Woodward was sitting on tapes which could have prevented people from believing the president’s downplaying of the virus. A simple “upload” on his computer in the comforts of his own home could have saved thousands.
It’s been a year since Bob Woodward was informed by Donald Trump that the coronavirus was a deadly illness that could spread uncontrollably if it was not contained properly. Even though it’s already been a year in quarantine, life still feels the exact same. Despite the creation of the two new vaccines, nothing has drastically changed in terms of lifestyle, rate of increasing cases, and CDC guidelines and protocols to be safe against this virus. It is extremely frustrating to know that this virus could have been prevented about a year ago and at this time in 2021 we would be living life the way we used to pre-covid. Just because of a secret that was kept hidden between Donald Trump and journalist Bob Woodward, all our lives have taken a drastic turn and none of us know if or when we will ever get back on our orignial path.
As a result of this controversy, through our eyes, Bob Woodward’s credibility and reputation has been shattered. How can the public trust Woodward after knowing that he knowingly withheld information that could have been beneficial to the American public? What else have Woodward and other journalists alike kept from Americans? Very often, people feel as though they cannot trust the media because of journalists keeping hidden information for personal gain. So how can we guarantee that the information we currently have or have been receiving for all these years is reliable and accurate? It’s scary to think that there could be two sides that exist in our world. The one that we, the general public, live in and simply trust the reality of what we see and from the information we retrieve. And the second side being where our leaders, journalists, and officials reside who reserve necessary and useful knowledge such as the truth of the coronavirus.