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Opinion Bob Woodward, President Trump and 'fake’ news

Bob Woodward during the White House correspondents' dinner on April 29, 2017. (Cliff Owen/AP)

When White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked last week why in the world President Trump would do hours of interviews with Bob Woodward, she answered, “Because he is the most transparent president in history.”

With that answer, McEnany confused transparency — the quality of being open and honest — with accessibility — the quality of mouthing off whenever reporters are in the vicinity. Trump does plenty of the latter, very little of the former.

Transparency does occasionally sneak into Trump’s Twitter feed, however. As Media Matters has shown, Trump in 2019 tweeted coverage from Fox News and Fox Business 657 times. Whether the topic was immigration, Russia, foreign policy — whatever: Trump takes Fox material and blasts it out to his followers.

Woodward himself has developed some familiarity with Trump’s trigger-Twitter sensibility. For his new book “Rage,” Woodward — a veteran chronicler of presidential decision-making — interviewed Trump 18 times. In an interview with Scott Pelley for “60 Minutes,” Woodward revealed details about their final call on Aug. 14. The president initiated the call and lobbied Woodward to include in “Rage” the diplomatic agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Too late, responded Woodward: The book was getting printed (its release date is Tuesday).

“Rage,” Woodward told Trump, reaches some conclusions on his presidency. “It’s a tough book. There are going to be things that you are not gonna like, judgments that I made,” said Woodward on “60 Minutes,” summing up his message to the president. The president responded, “It looks like I don’t have it on this book, but we’ll get you sometime later, I guess.”

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Then came this:

In an email, Woodward laid out the sequence: “He called me an hour and a half before that tweet, and I told him it was going to be a tough book and there would be judgments that he would not like. So he sent out that tweet an hour and a half after his call.” The tweets themselves reflect a bit of disinformation savvy, in that they cite the “Fake Dossier,” a reference to the Steele dossier on Russian election interference, a document that, indeed, has proved flimsy. As if the Steele dossier — the product of a former British spy funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign — has poisoned the entire U.S. publishing world!

Yet the noteworthy aspect of Trump’s claim is that it came a full month before the book’s publication date, and it was based on a candid effort by the author to prepare Trump for its contents. For years we’ve known that when Trump decries “fake news,” he means merely critical information. Now there’s hard and fast confirmation of this equation.

The slam against the as-yet-unpublished “Rage” also suggests that Trump had previously held out hope that the book would present a positive look at his presidency. As the New York Times points out, Trump regretted declining to participate in “Fear,” Woodward’s first, also critical, book on the Trump years. He thought he could move the needle with “Rage.”

That idea, in itself, is a revelation: How could master liar Trump believe that after 18 interviews and mismanagement at every level of government, he’d come off looking good in a Woodward book? There’s one likely answer: that he really does believe all that stuff he watches on Fox News every night.

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