The president has spent the better part of the past week attacking the esteemed journalist
After a busy weekend spent golfing and bragging about his cordial relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, President Trump began his work week by tweeting 14 times before 10 in the morning. The focal point of the president’s wrath was the same as it was last week: veteran journalist Bob Woodward, whose latest book, Fear, provides a damning, detailed look behind the scenes of the Trump administration. The president decided to give the book a few shout-outs in anticipation of its Tuesday release.
Calling the book a “joke” and assuring America that the White House is a “smooth running machine” was just the beginning. The president continued to tweet a line from a Washington Examiner piece pointing out that administration officials whom Woodward’s reporting quotes — most notably Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis — have issued denials. Trump then retweeted a series of unrelated memes from fan accounts before doing the same to an attack he made on Woodward last Friday. “I don’t talk the way I am quoted. If I did I would not have been elected President,“ Trump wrote, an apparent reference to a reported quote of him calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner.” Despite his denial, multiple outlets have uncovered past instances of Trump using “mentally retarded” in a derogatory fashion, and the New York Times pointed out on Friday that he once described his in-laws as “dumb Southerners.”
Though Trump apparently once respected Woodward, his tone changed last Tuesday when the Washington Post published a preview of the Watergate journalist’s much-anticipated book. Included were a number of quotes bashing Trump from some of his most prominent officials, as well as quotes from the president insulting members of his own Cabinet. The book was described to portray a White House in chaos, where officials work tirelessly to prevent an incompetent president from harming the country more than he already has. Woodward’s characterization was legitimized in the eyes of many when, on Wednesday, the Times published an op-ed penned by an anonymous senior administration official painting a similarly distressed portrait of life inside the White House. Trump spent the better part of last week attacking both Woodward and the “gutless” author of the Times op-ed.
As journalists have continued to comb through Woodward’s book, more damaging passages have trickled out, such as Trump’s approach to handling #MeToo allegations, of which he has been a target himself. “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women,” Trump is reported to have said. “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”
Despite repeated attempts, Woodward did not actually speak to Trump for Fear. The quotes from the president and administration officials are based on anonymous accounts from firsthand sources. Woodward has exercised extreme care in how he constructed the scenes detailed in the book, recording all of his interviews and cross-checking accounts with multiple sources. Nevertheless, Trump and his administration have used the absence of on-the-record sources to question the legitimacy of Woodward’s reporting. “This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote in a statement released last week. “Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost,” tweeted the president.
Trump’s outburst on Monday morning might have been triggered by Woodward’s appearance on the Today show, an explosive convergence of the perceived enemy receiving the brunt of Trump’s attention and the network that recently knocked heavyweight CNN off of the the top of his Fake News rankings.
Trump couldn’t help respond to Guthrie questioning Woodward about the book’s anonymous sources.
Absent from Trump’s tweet is Woodward’s response. “The incidents are not anonymous,” he said. “It gives a date, it gives a time, who participates, most often the president himself and what he says.” Guthrie then pressed Woodward on the statements from Kelly and Mattis denying Woodward’s reporting. “My old boss at the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, used to say that the truth emerges. Sometimes it takes time,” he responded. “These are political statements to protect their jobs. Totally understandable. But this is as carefully done as you can do an excavation of the reality of what goes on.”
Outside of Kelly holding a press conference to admit he wrote the Times op-ed, there isn’t going to be any more accurate account of the circus inside the White House than Woodward’s reporting. It’s not a stretch to say he’s America’s most respected journalist. He’s reported on more presidential administrations than Trump could probably name off the top of his head. He’s been plenty harsh on Obama. He doesn’t cut corners. He’s reportorial process is beyond reproach, and there is no good reason — including the denials issued by administration officials like Kelly and Mattis — to doubt any of what it yielded in Fear. Trump’s only recourse has been to do exactly what he’s done, which is to employ the same strategy he outlined for handling sexual assault accusations: deny, deny, deny.
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