Bob Woodward Criticized For Sitting on Trump Coronavirus Admission to Sell Books

Journalist Bob Woodward received criticism on Wednesday for not sharing information earlier about President Donald Trump's thoughts on the threats posed by the novel coronavirus.

The criticism revolved around an excerpt from Woodward's forthcoming book, Rage, that The Washington Post reviewed before the book's official release through Simon & Schuster on September 15.

In the excerpt, Woodward described an Oval Office meeting about the virus attended by Trump, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger on January 28. Following that meeting, Woodward said that Trump called him on February 7 and discussed the threats the virus posed to the American people, a phone call he recorded and shared with the paper where he works as an associate editor.

"You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed," Trump can be heard telling Woodward in the recorded audio about the virus' ease of transmission. He described COVID-19 as "more deadly than even your strenuous flus" before mentioning the thousands of Americans that die each year after contracting the seasonal flu.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. On Wednesday, audio from a phone call with journalist Bob Woodward revealed that Trump described COVID-19 as "more deadly" than the flu back in February. Sean Rayford/Getty

Critics chimed in on the president's comments about the virus on social media after The Washington Post published the excerpt. Some of the comments targeted Woodward, who shared the phone call with Trump seven months after it was initially recorded, and suggested that he held off on sharing the phone conversation in order to boost his book sales.

"I respect Bob Woodward so so so much," The Oklahoman journalist Jacob Unruh said on Twitter. "But sitting on this information to sell a book is just not OK."

This is my struggle.

I respect Bob Woodward so so so much.

But sitting on this information to sell a book is just not OK.

— Jacob Unruh (@jacobunruh) September 9, 2020

"Bob Woodward is a journalistic icon, but waiting until six weeks before the election to unveil information (including tapes) that, in a normal world, would dramatically alter a race in order to push book publicity is not it," Spectrum Sports 360 host Jon Alba wrote on Twitter.

Bob Woodward is a journalistic icon, but waiting until six weeks before the election to unveil information (including tapes) that, in a normal world, would dramatically alter a race in order to push book publicity is not it.

— Jon Alba (@JonAlba) September 9, 2020

Simon & Schuster declined Newsweek's request for comment.

During a White House press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany addressed questions about the recording from reporters who asked if the president intentionally withheld details from the American people about the virus.

"Absolutely not," McEnany said. "This president, at a time when you're facing insurmountable challenges, it's important to express confidence, it's important to express calm."

Trump's handling of the pandemic has been criticized for months by many public health officials and government leaders who requested concise messaging from the federal government on stay-home orders, mask mandates and social distancing requirements. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps its website updated with guidelines to help Americans protect themselves from contracting the virus, government and health officials have in many parts of the country implemented more specific regulations at the local levels in efforts to prevent spikes in new cases.

The U.S. became the country with the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in late March, just a couple of weeks after the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic. By September 9, more than 6.3 million cases and nearly 190,000 deaths were reported throughout the U.S. since the pandemic began.

Estimates on the number of Americans who die each year from the flu have ranged from 12,000 to 61,000 since 2010, according to the CDC.

In one tweet posted on March 9, Trump compared the number of deaths that the country faces during a typical flu season with the relatively low number of COVID-19 deaths reported at that time. "Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on," he said of the American government during flu seasons. California Governor Gavin Newsom became the first U.S. governor to introduce a stay-at-home order 10 days later and was quickly followed by several other state leaders.

So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020

Though McEnany said during the press briefing that Trump did not intentionally mislead Americans in the early days of the pandemic, he repeatedly compared COVID-19 to the seasonal flu in public comments he made before changing his messaging in late March, more than a month after his conversation with Woodward.

"The president has never lied to the American public," McEnany said.

Updated 9/10 at 5:01 p.m. ET: This story was updated with a response from Simon & Schuster declining to comment.