Unless Bob Woodward Releases Tapes Proving His Book is Real, Fear Will Actually Help Trump
Stop me if you have heard this one before…
The media establishment is breathless and aghast over startling revelations about President Donald Trump in a new high-profile book that just happen to confirm all of their previously held beliefs about how horrendous things really are behind the scenes in the White House.
The last time we played this game, the author was Michael Wolff, and I correctly predicted that the book would, counterintuitively, actually help Trump by desensitizing the public to revelations about him, while discrediting the entire notion of sourced material in writing to the vast majority of the president’s supporters. Now, history is already repeating itself with an explosive new tome from media darling Bob Woodward.
Much of the news media has convinced themselves that this time will be different because the allegations are even more mind-blowing, while the writer is someone whom they consider to be a charter member of their elite club, as opposed to Wolff who was too much of tabloid guy for them to go to the mat for. However, unless Woodward brings substantial audio proof to the table (and he may) once the book comes out next week, this is going to be an exact repeat of the Wolff fiasco.
To be clear, there are elements of the excerpts which, if true, are extremely important. Foremost among them is the accusation that some of those around Trump have effectively staged a silent “coup” and don’t always allow him to what he wants or intends to do (which, bizarrely, the formerly respected Brit Hume, rationalized was somehow a condemnation of Never Trump conservatives!).
Similarly, if Woodward’s account is accurate of former Trump lawyer John Dowd’s failed attempt to do a mock “Russian” interview with the president and his then telling special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump can’t testify because he is incapable to telling the truth, then that is also a true bombshell of epic proportions.
There is no doubt that, in a “normal” world, these two stories being reported by someone of Woodward’s stature, would effectively end any of the previous presidencies since Woodward helped abort Richard Nixon’s. But, as anyone who has been paying attention already knows, we are no longer living in such a place.
Consequently, for these bombshells to detonate to any real consequence, there needs to be overwhelming proof that they actually happened beyond just the word of a man best known for forcing a Republican president to resign from office. Since numerous key players quoted in the book, including Dowd and Trump himself, have already very strongly claimed that Woodward’s reporting is, at best, highly inaccurate, a far greater burden of proof is going to be on Woodward than even he is probably prepared for.
The stark reality is that we live in an electronic era of extreme cynicism towards the news media, especially among Trump supporters. If something is claimed to have happened, unless there is at least audio or documentary evidence that it did, then to the Trump backers who matter most in this equation, it never really happened.
In fact, the whole concept of going after Trump (assuming the hope here is to convince at least some of his supporters that they have been duped, and not just to sell lots of books to people who already hate him) the antiquated medium of a book seems almost as silly and hopeless as if a foreign military tried attack today’s United States with nothing but muskets and bayonets. It all feels like a strategy that is stuck in a time warp, and is obviously doomed to failure.
Of course, there is clearly the chance that Woodward actually does have the “receipts” and can prove that key portions of his book really did happen. After all, in the stunning and confusing phone call he got from Trump, Woodward does make a point of making sure the president knows that he has lots of recorded interviews (for the record, there was something very strange about Trump’s demeanor in that phone call which may be the key to figuring what is really going on in this whole saga).
But the key question here, which it appears no one in the public knows the answer to yet, is with WHOM does Woodward have recordings? Based on the Post’s description of Woodward’s sourcing, it seems very possible that large portions of his quotations come not from the source directly, but from someone else who supposedly witnessed the statement being made.
This is a distinction that is extremely critical to understanding the credibility of what is in the book. Getting quotes second-hand is inherently unreliable not just because humans are really bad at remembering exactly what people said, but a source in this situation may have an axe to grind and Woodward himself may be vulnerable to believing an allegation too easily because of his own confirmation bias with regard to the nature of Trump himself (the fact that so much of what is in this book dovetails almost exactly with our greatest fears about Trump should inherently give us all pause about whether we might be too quick to blindly believe it).
While I have very little regard for the integrity of anyone who has sold their soul to Trump, it is really difficult to believe that any of those who have already come out and strongly denied Woodward’s account would be so incredibly stupid to do so if they thought there was any chance Woodward had them on tape. I have to conclude, based on what we currently know, that we are never going to hear any “gotcha” audio clips contradicting the denials because Woodward didn’t speak directly to the people he quoted, and he granted anonymity to those he did actually speak.
Sorry, but if that is what all this is based on, then, regardless of how much the news media reveres Woodward (let’s not forget that he is hardly perfect) that is not going to change anything at all with regard to the president’s level of support. Much like the Wolff book began Trump’s inoculation process, it may even help him by making him utterly immune to any future revelations because it would be impossible to top a book like this from the “great” Bob Woodward.
Remember what they say about the definition of insanity…
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.