We warned you weeks ago to "buckle up" for what was to come between then and Election Day. On today's BradCast, a mountain of reminders as to why we issued the warning, as we hope that everyone remains buckled up until the madness comes to a full and complete stop. [Audio link to full show follows below.]
We begin today with the news that rocked the nation on Wednesday and continues reverberating today. Excerpts of audio recordings from Bob Woodward's eighteen separate interviews with Donald Trump for his new book revealed (among many other things) that the President was fully aware of the dangers of the coronavirus crisis as early as the beginning of the year, even while he was misleading the public about it. During one recording on February 7th this year, Trump told the Washington Post's Watergate journalist that the virus was transmitted through the air, was "more deadly than your strenuous flues" and was "deadly stuff". By March 19th, he is heard on tape telling the best-selling author that the COVID-19 disease was also affecting "plenty of young people" and that he "wanted to play it down" because, according to the recordings, he didn't "want to create a panic".
At the exact same time that he was telling Woodward one thing, Trump was lying about the virus publicly as more than 190,000 Americans have now died in the months since he first made clear to Woodward that the disease was wildly contagious and lethal. In mid-March, when he explained his strategy of down-playing the virus, only 150 Americans had died. Still, Woodward sat on the information until this week.
No doubt you've seen the reactions by now from many Democrats, including Joe Biden and even from anti-Trump Republicans. But what of the responsibility that Woodward himself had to warn the public about what Trump knew but was refusing to acknowledge publicly --- and, in fact, was lying publicly about?
We're joined today by investigative journalist DAVID SIROTA, former speech-writer for Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign and now founder of the "Too Much Information" (TMI) newsletter. On Wednesday, in his TMI column, Sirota charged (as we long have) that Trump's actions constitute "a horrific crime against humanity," but, he adds, "it was aided and abetted by the popular face of investigative journalism: Mr. All The President's Men himself."
"The President of the United States said something to the nation's most famous reporter, and the most famous reporter sat on that information for seven months while tens of thousands of people died," Sirota says today. "Donald Trump committed a crime against humanity and Bob Woodward drove the getaway car."
Sirota is not the only journalist, progressive or otherwise, who has been highly critical of Woodward over the past 24 hours. So has Esquire's Charlie Pierce. So has The American Prospect's David Dayen. So has even the Washington Post's own Margaret Sullivan. And so are we.
"As a journalist, your job is to get the news from elected officials and to, at minimum, report what they say, and certainly report discrepancies in what they are saying," Sirota argues. "Your job is not to suppress that information, to hold that information while tens of thousands of people die, and to hold it to juice your book sales later on at a more opportune time. That is what happened."
Woodward has attempted to defend himself in several interviews since WaPo released the stunning recordings (which also reveal much more than Trump's secret views and/or knowledge about COVID-19). Sirota responds to Woodward's limp defense and to Trump's use of Woodward as "a human shield" today, when the President tweeted that Woodward's failure to release the information earlier was evidence that Trump's remarks were not "bad or dangerous," otherwise Woodward would have "immediately report[ed] them in an effort to save lives."
Sirota describes the entire fiasco as a "collision of both the corrupt political system and a deeply corrupt media culture" and tells me: "I genuinely believe that this is the biggest scandal in modern journalism."
As journalists, he asserts, we have "a duty to warn". Ironically, as the Poynter Institute, a journalism think-tank and fact-checking organization, reports in its own story asking "Was it unethical for Bob Woodward to withhold Trump’s coronavirus interviews for months?", Woodward himself is very aware of that duty --- if, perhaps, not for himself. "Woodward will be on CBS’s '60 Minutes' Sunday," Poynter's Al Tompkins reports. "In an excerpt of that interview, Woodward told CBS’s Scott Pelley, 'The president of the United States has a duty to warn.'"
Next up --- if you're still buckled in --- a new report from Microsoft today finds that Russia's military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., the same group alleged to have hacked and leaked email from the Hillary Clinton Campaign in 2016, is back at work in 2020 and has become more adept at covering their tracks. Moreover, the findings of the report contradict the Trump Administration's claims about both Russia and China. And for good reason. The Administration has corrupted U.S. intelligence to report what Trump wants the public to believe, rather than actual facts.
The new report alleges that Russia is attempting to access material from both the Trump and Joe Biden campaigns, and that China --- which Trump and the White House National Security Advisor and the U.S. Attorney General all claimed to be a greater threat to the 2020 election than Russia --- is actually focused on hacking Biden, not Trump. The Administration has claimed, falsely apparently, that China prefers Biden over Trump. Today's report, however, suggests just the opposite.
Given the extraordinary whistleblower report released on Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee from one of Trump's senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security, none of this should be a surprise. The official, Brian Murphy, details in his complaint how he was instructed to change intelligence to remove references to Russian interference and add threats from China and Iran instead, because Russian interference in the U.S. election "made the president look bad," according to complaint.
Murphy's complaint also details how he and others were instructed to change intelligence assessments to match Trump's misleading claims and rhetoric regarding "antifa", to minimize the greater threat of White Supremacy groups, and to downplay anything about Russia all together. He says he was also instructed to change data to match the Administration's false narrative about terrorists coming across the U.S.-Mexico border, and about the dismal conditions in Central America that were undermining the Trump Administration's asylum policies. The result, Murphy charges, is intelligence assessments that "more closely resemble a policy document...than an intelligence document.”
As noted on today's show, this is decidedly not how intelligence gathering and analysis is supposed to work. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Murphy refused to make the changes mentioned, and he was eventually cut out from work on the national Homeland Threat Assessment and demoted from Deputy Under Secretary in the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis to a position in the agency's Management Division.
Finally, as if all of this wasn't nightmarish enough, the delightful Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report on the man-made climate change-fueled wildfires now exploding up and down the West Coast, the media's failure to tie them to our climate crisis, and Trump's pre-election flip-flop on offshore oil drilling to try and win votes in the battleground state of Florida...
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(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)