WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2020
A "perfect story" is told: What did President Donald J. Trump know or believe and when did he know or believe it?
With a disordered person like Donald J. Trump, such questions are hard to answer. Trump rarely seems to know what he's talking about. Beyond that, his general moral and psychological disorder has long been quite apparent.
We bring that framework to our review of the various things Trump said to the Washington Post's less than impressive Bob Woodward.
Last night, Woodward appeared for the full hour with CNN's Anderson Cooper. The ensuing discussion was fascinating—but is it possible that the two men were constructing a "Perfect Story?"
When our "journalists" construct a Perfect Story, they simplify the events of the tale in such a way as to present perfect heroes and perfect villains behaving in the most obvious possible ways.
Is it possible that something like that was happening early in last night's program? Woodward told a simple, clear-cut story to Cooper.
The story starts in the Oval Office. This was the start of the tale:
WOODWARD (9/15/20): And let me take you to the scene in the Oval Office at the end of January, January 28, when the national security adviser to the president, Robert O'Brien, said: "Mr. President, this virus is going to be the biggest national security threat to your presidency."
He said it with passion. This was a top-secret intelligence briefing. Matt Pottinger, the deputy, stepped in and said: "I agree."
Pottinger is the person, it turns out, almost perfectly placed by accident.
He had been in China as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal for seven years. He knew the Chinese lie. He told the president this.
Pottinger had contacts in China, reliable doctors, who said to him: "This is not just going to be a little problem. This is going to be a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu."
And the president asked questions.
We've already met the word "perfectly!" According to Woodward, Pottinger was "perfectly placed" to tell the commander the truth about the coming pandemic.
O'Brien and Pottinger called out a warning—"and the president asked questions!" As the story continues, Woodward takes himself off the hook for a recent criticism—explanation below—and he draws an assumption about what the commander believed and knew:
WOODWARD (continuing directly): So, fast-forward to ten days later [to February 7], when he told me all of this [on the phone]. I thought he was talking about China, because he'd been on the phone with President Xi. I thought, for a long time, it was China. And it was the United States.
And, tragically, unfortunately, he failed to tell the public the truth that he knew. On February 4, a few days before I talked to him and he told me this, he gave his speech, the famous State of the Union speech, to the Congress.
When he gave his State of the Union address, the commander "failed to tell the public the truth that he knew," Woodward says.
In doing so, Woodward assumes that Trump agreed with what he'd been told by O'Brien and Pottinger. But why should anyone make that assumption? As is the norm within the guild, Robert Woodward didn't explain, and Cooper didn't ask.
In the presentation we've posted, Woodward crafted a perfect moral tale. The president knew the pandemic was coming—but he didn't tell us the people!
That's a perfect moral tale, with perfectly villainous conduct on the part of Trump. Woodward had constructed a classic Perfect Story. And who knows? It could even be true!
That said, how do we know that Trump believed what O'Brien and Pottinger told him? Later in last night's session with Cooper, Woodward added a bit of detail, even as he took himself off the hook again:
WOODWARD: We are living in an Orwellian world. And this is not just about some political problem or some geopolitical problem. It's about the lives of people in this country.
And he was told. He knew. He told me about it [on February 7]. I thought it was about China.
And quite frankly, it took me three months to find out about that key January 28 meeting in the Oval Office, which was a top-secret intelligence briefing. And the briefer from the intelligence community is saying: "Well, there are problems in China, but they're working on it."
And that's when the national security adviser and the deputy stepped in—I have witnesses to this, participants in this—and said, "No, no," and pushed a very contrarian view, based on facts and experience.
Uh-oh! The intelligence briefer said the situation wasn't so dire. O'Brien and Pottinger disagreed, "push[ing] a very contrarian view."
We'll assume that account is accurate. That said, how exactly do we know that Trump believed what O'Brien and Pottinger said? We ask that question for a reason. During his phone call with Woodward ten days later, this is the first thing the commander said:
WOODWARD (2/7/20): And so what was President Xi saying yesterday?
TRUMP: Oh, we were talking mostly about the virus, and I think he is going to have it in good shape. But you know, it's a very tricky situation.
Trump said his beloved Xi would have things under control. Might that be what this dope really thought? How do we know it isn't?
On January 28, the briefer said that things would be under control. O'Brien and Pottinger took a much gloomier stance.
How do we know that Trump agreed with the gloomier view? Woodward offers zero evidence one way or the other.
Is it possible that the commander thought O'Brien and Pottinger were full of old shoes, a stance he has often seemed to take with his ranking advisers? How do we know he thought they were right this time?
How do we know he thought they were right? Last night, Woodward didn't explain and Cooper didn't ask. So it goes—so it always go—when the guild constructs a Group Tale.
Along the way, Woodward took himself off the hook for last week's barrage of complaints. The self-pardon unfolded like this:
Why didn't Woodward tell the public, in real time, that Trump had always believed that the pandemic would hit us hard? Last night, on two occasions, Woodward offered a somewhat facile excuse:
He said he didn't know about that initial meeting in the Oval until three months later. (That certainly could be true.) Therefore, when Trump told him how difficult the virus was, he assumed that Trump was just talking about something that would happen in China! Now he sees that Trump was actually talking about what would happen here!
Given the fearful reporting taking place at the time, that's a less-than-convincing claim. But Woodward told this story twice, taking himself off the hook for seven months of silence.
We're left with our basic question. When Trump spoke to Woodward on February 7, he said he thought that the brilliant Xi would have things under control. How do we know that the constantly clueless commander in chief didn't really believe that?
The answer is simple—we don't really know! It's possible he had more faith in his strongman friend than in his two advisers.
Trump behaved like an absolute clown from that early point forward. During his ludicrous press events, he made lunatic claims again and again as the potted plants from the mainstream press slumbered, snored and burbled.
That said, how do we know what this idiot thought and believed as of February 4 and 7?
Unless we're crafting a Perfect Tale, we'd have to say that we don't. But our "journalists" love to craft such tales. In the past three decades, they've behaved this way again and again and again.
According to major anthropologists, this is the way our limited species has always played such games. Our human brains are wired to play this way, these despondent top experts have said.