Bob Woodward’s latest book on President Donald Trump called Rage has left so many stunned and shocked with its many revelations. Following excerpts of recordings of some of his interviews with Trump as a pre-release to the book, Bill Stierle and Tom jump on board to talk about the reporting on the Trump presidency as they face the global pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives. They discuss the ways the tapes reveal the emotional disconnect and the purchasing of truth in how the President has downplayed the virus publicly. What is more, they read into the President’s leadership style and the media landscape that has pushed the recordings to come out.
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Rage: The Woodward Recordings And The Fallout Of The Trump Presidency
I want to make sure that we acknowledge our audiences who I’m sure is paying attention to what we say and what we’re going to talk about. We were going to talk about expertise in this episode, but there’s been a bit of a bombshell news story that demands our attention. We’re going to pivot to that and come back to expertise in a future episode. Stay tuned for that coming up soon. The bombshell of the Bob Woodward book Rage, not as much of the book because the book is not officially out. The recordings of excerpts of some of the interviews that Bob Woodward had with President Donald Trump have been coming out as a prerelease to the book. There’s a lot to be shocked about there and we want to discuss that.
Communication-wise as well as how the body works when it’s being interviewed. Every human being thinks their self-worth is high and thinks their respect is high. They’ve ascended to the highest place in the land or the position of being a judge or being a person that’s in a high office and they think, “Look how good I am. Nothing can touch me. I can say whatever I want and there’s nobody looking over me because no matter what I say or do, people are going to love me. A lot of people are going to love me and I get to be this person that I am and other people would wish they were me. It’s okay for me to talk openly because no one’s going to hold me accountable.”
This is a big part of the Bob Woodward tapes, which are unsettling because you’re reading to a person trying to manage the emotions instead of managing the situation. That’s the communication departure that we have a lot of room to talk about because managing emotions, managing a person’s panic is different from being honest with the person about a lethal illness that’s in front of you. This is a big thing. That’s where that emotional disconnect takes place.
There are many things that are shocking to see come out of this and some of them are the information on its face. I don’t think we are going to talk about that primarily, but let’s quickly address a couple of points where back while President Donald Trump has publicly downplayed the virus saying that it’s going to go away. There’s only one person with it and then there’re only fifteen people with it, but soon there’s going to be no people with it.
This was before there were any deaths and trying to minimize the potential impact of the virus. At the same time, he’s telling Bob Woodward, it’s deadly and it’s airborne. You can see by what Donald Trump said, he had been briefed and he understood. There’s a significant difference between viruses that spread through physical human contact and ones that are airborne and spread through the air. He’s saying that it’s a deadly virus.
As you listened to those tapes, those recordings, I thought, “The president seems like he’s being truthful, forthcoming with Bob Woodward. At the same time, he’s telling all the rest of us that it’s no big deal, go about your business, go ahead and travel, whatever.” That is certainly one example of some of the differences between the reality that Donald Trump knew and was talking about behind closed doors and what he and his administration are saying publicly. That’s one level of shock and disappointment in my mind.
The feeling of outrage is right on target for a lot of people. We cannot minimize outrage especially if you’re someone who has lost a person. If somebody in your family or a loved one or a friend of yours got lost in this experience, the outrage is there. The challenge has to do with Donald Trump’s thinking. His marketing and selling mindset don’t fully have the skill to manage an issue. He’s trying to manage an emotion called panic.
This is where I have a lot of compassion and a sense of awareness that he doesn’t have the skill to understand how to manage truth and honesty on a larger scale. You can manage truth around a product. “I have the best steaks in the world. I have the best casinos in the world. I have the best football team. I can start my own football league.” You can manage a product that way, but managing people doesn’t work that way.Managing a person's panic is different from being honest with the person about a lethal illness in front of you. Click To Tweet
You can’t run out the clock because what winds up happening is there’s an accumulation of resentment, bitterness, content, criticism, and withdrawal. The criticism and contempt that is heading not just in the direction of Donald Trump, but is in the direction of the Republicans. They only have two positions left. They have either be defensive or withdraw and not talk to anybody. They’re doing this. I know that we did an episode a while back called The Four Horsemen of A Communication Apocalypse.
This is that the entire dynamic played out. He’s talking with Bob Woodward communication-wise and the feeling of confidence, the feeling of, “I’m going to set the record straight. I’m going to interview this guy. He’s going to tell the truth about me. I can manage the truth with him. He’s going to be kind in my direction because he sees that I’m the president.” He didn’t realize that “This guy is going to tape you. Whatever you say is going to come out and it’s going to be set in the field of time. That’s then going to influence the truth about other people and even the respect people have about you, about how you handle a complex social issue.” This is one way to handle a business issue is to avoid it, which it did but that’s not the way you handle a nation or an entire group of people in this way. That’s a little meat for the bones of criticism and contempt are coming towards Donald Trump and the Republicans. It only leaves them defensiveness and withdrawal. You can see communication-wise they’re stuck.
They are stuck and that’s become apparent not just with Donald Trump being asked a question about did he downplay the virus in a press conference that had nothing to do with the virus. Also, other Republican senators being asked about the revelation of the disconnect between what Donald Trump said privately to Bob Woodward and said publicly. I want to come back to that because something you said was interesting. When he’s being interviewed, I also want to make it clear that to our audience, Bob Woodward had permission to record President Donald Trump.
He did not record him in any sneaky way. He had permission to record him. The couple interviews that were done in the Oval Office, the White House recorded them but Donald Trump knew he was being recorded. On the one hand, he should know, but it’s interesting to see how Donald Trump thinks about these things because most people would not be thinking about what’s right in front of them at that moment. They were like playing chess wherein if you play chess, a lot of it you need to think 3 to 10 moves ahead and that impacts what you do now.
Donald Trump was not thinking two moves ahead, let alone ten moves ahead in this or he would have been more careful with what he said. It’s appeared to me and I wanted to see if you felt the same was that when Donald Trump is revealing facts to Bob Woodward in these interviews about the virus, “It’s airborne and at first thought that it was mostly older people were getting it, but now we’re seeing younger people are getting it.” It seemed like Donald Trump was providing information to Bob Woodward so that Bob Woodward would be impressed with the president’s knowledge that he has information. He’s the leader of the country. He’s the big man and has the information.
The need for respect, recognition and acknowledgment are on the top of his list. If I can get a moment of recognition and acknowledgment. Bob Woodward for his part is going like, “Tell me the truth. Is that what you were going through?” You could hear Bob Woodward going like, “That must have been a tough decision.” Bob Woodward was staying out of the way and then Donald Trump goes like, “It is tough. I knew there was going to be a lot of people that were going to die.”
It gives a sense and some reality if the person is having compassion for a person that is under-skilled in the job that they’re doing, we can take this as when your sixteen-year-old daughter gets into a fender bender. How do you deal with that? She comes up and she says, “Dad, it wasn’t my fault.” You go like, “You’re the one who made the U-turn in front of that other car or whatever. You made the U-turn on that bridge. You didn’t have enough room to get there and you didn’t look at it and now that bumper is hanging off there. Do you know how much that U-turn cost you, me or us?”
In Donald Trump’s interview, he’s like interviewing a sixteen-year-old going like, “I had this and then I hit this. Aren’t I still great because I’m seeing the issue, but this is the choice I made? I don’t know if that choice was the greatest one.” From a short-term run the numbers perspective on almost 200,000 Americans, how much economy are they worth? Notice I changed the life into a commodity. This is unsettling even for it to come out of my mouth because from a number’s place, many businesses have to do it that way.
It’s like, “I can only pay this person $20 an hour. I can only pay them $10 an hour or $7 an hour to make my business run. It cannot run if I charge them $15 an hour. It could but then all of a sudden I’m pricing myself out of the marketplace because the people that purchased this thing, I’ve got all these international competition pieces that are going in.” That’s why businesses move their factories overseas because they can save on their labor.
The same thing has to do with life and illness. How much is this person? If we’re losing old people, it’s no big deal. That is a thought that people have. Can you imagine how unsettling that is? It’s like, “Back up, Bill. Did you just say no big deal?” It’s not in alignment with, “I’m not going to spend $100,000 to save this person’s life when they’re 85 and they only have 1 to 3 more years left in a nursing home. I’m not saving that life because I don’t want to spend $100,000 on it.”
I’m going to even make this worse. Let’s suppose there is a traffic intersection with stop signs and there’s a fatal traffic accident and then there’s a second fatal accident and then there’s a third fatal accident here. Eventually, the people in the town say, “We need a stoplight here.” There were three people that died and the stoplight cost $1.5 million to put in. Is it worth that amount of money to save the next three lives?
The numbers don’t work out that way. It’s unsettling to talk in a quantifying way. When somebody is brought up in that business mindset instead of the public service mindset, there’s a huge emotional disconnect. It’s the public service servant mindset that has to spend the money. They have to because they’re serving the public as the whole in the long run on, they’re saving it. They’re not looking at, “What are we going to lose? Three lives every 1.5 years. That’s not that many lives to lose. Is it worth $1.5 million to put that light in there?”
“If we spend X number of million dollars on protective gear, is that going to bring us the value that we need? Wait until we can make it at a cheaper rate. Don’t buy it in the emergency room rate because the price goes up.” It’s all those people that were hoarding hand sanitizers. Do you remember those characters and they got much heat, “You bought the hand sanitizer for $2 and now you’re selling to people for $15?” The answer is, “I’m a capitalist like the president is. I’m doing the same thing that he’s doing.”
We look at that as greedy businessmen, but capitalism says, “I am being opportunistic of the crisis. I’m taking advantage of the thing.” The emotional discount is, “I am not caring about the impact of the person having water, of the person having a safe environment. I don’t care about asbestos. I don’t care about led because he rolled both of those two things back. I don’t care about the water in Flint. I don’t care about the water in New Jersey and whatever town with fracking. What if somebody doesn’t get clean water? Move to a better town.”
What’s apparent is that Donald Trump appeared to be emotionally disconnected from the potential lives lost. I think in general, he’s not compassionate or empathetic at all and he doesn’t have much emotional intelligence. That’s a certain leadership style that is not interested in the safety and protection of the people as much as it is the appearance of him in certain ways. It’s disappointing on the whole because it’s clear that if in January 2020 when he was saying some of these things to Bob Woodward and even in early February 2020, if he had taken decisive action back then, we may have tens of thousands of more people. If not, over a hundred thousand people would still be alive now.
We don’t need the actual number, but if they had stopped international travel sooner or not kept coming in from one country like China but everything and quarantined sooner, it would have been a shorter quarantine. We would have been returned to normal activity sooner and stopped this virus and prevented a lot of people from dying, saved a lot of lives. He doesn’t see it that way or he didn’t care at the time.We cannot minimize outrage, especially if you're someone who has lost a person. Click To Tweet
On its face, the Bob Woodward tapes are revealing something shocking. There’re two other things I want to throw in here before pivoting to what I think is the most shocking aspect of this whole situation. This has put Republicans on the defensive trying to defend Donald Trump. A Senator from Louisiana, John Kennedy was already scheduled to be interviewed on some things. He got thrown into the meat grinder unprepared. He thinks about the difference between what the president said privately on a certain date and then publicly what he was saying and he goes back to, “I don’t care much about these gotcha books. I don’t want to comment much. I don’t hold a lot of stock in these gotcha books.”
I’m paraphrasing, but he’s calling this a gotcha book as if it was a surprise. The president sat down for eighteen interviews, some in person, some over the phone, all of them recorded and it’s anything but a gotcha book. Republicans are going to have a hard time reconciling that and that we saw some of that. The other thing that I think we need to mention is even about Bob Woodward is coming under some criticism and a little fire because he sat on this information for six months after some of the interviews before revealing any of it. Does he bear responsibility for not bringing it out sooner and saving lives?
Is the press a public servant?
I think it’s supposed to be.
The challenge is that if media messages get launched too early and there isn’t a brand formation and a sequential branding message over time, what happens is the thing comes up and it looks like a one-off. Everybody then gets a dogpile on that one-off instead of it being, “I wrote this book. Here’s the tape of it. Here are other people corroborating it.” If it was back when he was doing this stuff with Richard Nixon because there’s a lot of correlations between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon.
If that’s happening at a time of Richard Nixon, it was easier for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to reveal small pieces of information because of the media’s uptake and the slowness of the media but now, you launch one thing and the internet and the cable news jumps all over it, true untrue. It polarizes things. If you have three solid pieces of it is written here, it is spoken here, here is the example of what it is and other people corroborate it. All of a sudden it’s like, “Try to dogpile on this. I got three big pieces of evidence for you.”
Bob Woodward’s accountability is going to take a little bit of the ding until we empathize with his position going like the media landscape has changed and the communication landscape has changed to such that AOC launches the Green New Deal, people jumped on it and they’ve gone like, “We needed to do a better job of marketing and branding this before we brought it out.” They ripped that apart. They take a small message about cows or planes or whatever and they’re going like, “What the heck?”
That could have been handled much better. If you were a marketing and branding expert, you would have rolled it out slowly in a different way that was like a sneak attack. People wouldn’t even realize what happened when all of a sudden, the thing grabs a foothold and gets traction. I think that they may have shot themselves in the foot rolling that out too quickly, but certainly, it’s in Bob Woodward’s and maybe the publisher’s best interest to wait and bring out the book 1.5 months before the election and it gets a lot of attention. Maybe Bob Woodward doesn’t see himself as the same public servant but certainly had he leaked the information that the virus was much worse than it was early on, maybe we would have saved some lives, but he probably wouldn’t have a book now. His interviews with the president would have been cut off at that point.
You and I should take a look at the media landscape from a communication standpoint. If he would have waited two more weeks and this would have shown up two more weeks later or if it would have been two weeks earlier than this moment, can you see how that there is much churning that’s going on of new stories? If it was two weeks earlier, the stuff with the Department of Justice that comes up would then eclipse this.
If it was two late weeks later, then the Department of Justice would have been lingering and jumped on this, but then there would a new story here. It’s dicey in our new communication environment when a launch is to take place. There’s a fractioning of time and space here. I know it’s a weird thing to say, but it’s a separation of a person’s consciousness from stability, certainty, trust, and truth. All of the things are being pulled apart.
It’s like bringing up a lot of stuff, doubt, skepticism, hesitancy, confusion, and this makes it easier for a person that voted last time the way they voted to vote the same way as they’re going to this time. The more confused, the more doubtful, the more skeptical you are about the world, the more the person’s going to go back and vote the same way. There’s a certain group of people that are free from that.
The hope is somewhere between 10%, 15%, 20% of those folks are able to wake up and go like, “This is not the best direction that America is to go in.” If it’s the other way around, it’s like, “I’m too scared to do anything different. I’m going to stay with my vote. I’m too scared to go in to vote. I’m not going to vote because there’s a pandemic. I mailed in a vote but I’m not sure if the vote’s getting counted. What’s the point of voting?”
There’s a lot of danger that happens when doubt and skepticism are cultivated. In communication, the brander in chief, the marketer in chief, which Donald Trump is, it’s all about, “I’m not going to take a bad hit on this. My brand’s not going to be damaged too bad. It’s not about truth. It’s about, ‘I’m not going to take a bad hit on this. My people are going to still stick with me. My brand’s not going to be damaged. It could have been the selling point as well. It could have been much worse if you would have had somebody else in there.’”
It’s not compared to anything because there’s been such a disparity with Barack Obama. It’s like, “No. It would have been better because we watched the previous president keep a bull off our shores mostly.” We watched somebody handle a pandemic. You didn’t. He did. That’s the fair comparison. Here are some things that were done to stop this thing and it’s a great idea to cost cut America and fire everybody on the pandemic board. It’s a good short-term dollar save. Look how much money you saved by cost-cutting.
Look how much we spent trillions of dollars on economic stimulus and relief because of this pandemic that wasn’t prevented. That amount of money saved is little in comparison, no one’s even going to care about that. This segues into what I think is the most shocking reality of this entire revelation of the Bob Woodward recordings is that the president volunteered to do it. He wanted to be interviewed by Bob Woodward.
Let’s set up a little history. In 2018, Bob Woodward writes a book called Fear. He interviewed a lot of other White House staff, but not the president, and the president didn’t like that. I’ve read several articles and heard some news reports about this that seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I’m not going to vouch for their complete truth and authenticity. My understanding is that when Donald Trump learned Bob Woodward was preparing to write another book, he’s like, “This time I want to be interviewed because I want to set the record straight.”The more doubtful and skeptical you are about the world, the more the person's going to go back and vote the same way. Click To Tweet
He believed that he could convince Bob Woodward to write a book more favorable to him. Donald Trump volunteered to be interviewed and agreed to be recorded. To me, the fact that he agreed to be recorded is the most shocking blunder of this whole thing. You talk about how there are some parallels to Richard Nixon. This shows me that Donald Trump is not a good student of history because if he were, he would have known that it was the recordings, the Richard Nixon tapes that ultimately brought him down and forced his resignation. The recordings of what he said in the White House were subpoenaed. They were going to become public.
There are some missing ones, but many of them did become public. Everybody heard what the president said and we also know from history that had Richard Nixon burned the tapes, which he had them, he had control to do it. I remember an interview with Alexander Haig, who was one of his cabinet members. He and one other cabinet member came to him and said, “You’re going to need to resign. Here’s the only option we think you can take to avoid being tried for impeachment is to resign.” They also had told him if he burned the tapes and for whatever reason, Richard Nixon didn’t do that. He didn’t burn the tapes. I don’t know why he didn’t want to destroy evidence.
They have a version of integrity that is based on, “I’m a man that’s respected. I’m a man that has a great deal of acknowledgment and success. I’m a man that is been well-recognized because people voted for me. My identity is my brand. My self-worth is there. Therefore, what I’m saying is in integrity.” That’s where the slip up is that they have their version of integrity.
Richard Nixon didn’t burn the tapes and it brought him down. Donald Trump should’ve known to don’t let yourself be recorded and certainly not in private conversations. How naive is this guy? That to me is the shocking part and disappointment is that he either didn’t think the recordings were going to come out or he’s not thinking ahead 4 to 10 moves ahead in the chronology of his presidency. He was not marketing selling in these interviews with Bob Woodward as much as he did publicly. This was such a blunder. It’s honestly a dumb move and disappointing on the one hand. On the other hand, I’m personally relieved that the truth is being revealed. I personally like that but it’s like, “You shot yourself in the foot.” That to me is the shocking part. It’s like, “He’s a moth that can’t stay away from the light.” I think it is his biggest downfall.
People want to have the sense that my truth is the truth. It provides a good deal of certainty for people. People would like others to consider how difficult it is for them to make decisions and when it looks like it’s naive, but it’s, “That my worldview is my version of integrity is integrity. My version of the truth is the truth. People will listen to me and consider that and exclude all the other points of truth. They will push those away because they respect me. They recognize me. They acknowledge me. I have a strong brand identity. I believe my kids are great. I believe that they have some wonderful things that they’re bringing to the world. They’re a chip off the old block which is great because they are me and I am them. This is the people I need to be concerned about.”
It’s similar to what the English monarchy gets itself into. It’s like, “We’re protecting the one uncle or one cousin that is not good, but they’re a part of royalty, aren’t they?” That’s also a part of the truth too. There’s a lot to unpack in this one to give us some awareness and some insights on why does a person do this? It looks naive or stupid. It’s in alignment with how their worldview is defining their actions from the communications space. There’s not a lot of judgment here. There’s an interesting way the person walked themselves into the bear trap.
That’s the shocker. I’m sure we’re going to have a lot more to say about this as the full book comes out and ensure ways the White House tries to do damage control. There will probably be more to come on this one.
More to come, Tom. Thanks a lot. This is great.
Thanks, Bill. Have a great day.
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