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David Fahrenthold: Trump’s doctor could have provided updates without lying

Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, center, talks with reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

While the president was receiving treatment for COVID-19 over the weekend, Trump’s doctor spoke to the public, but wasn’t completely frank about his condition.

David Fahrenthold, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter at The Washington Post, says Dr. Conley lost any authority he had as soon as he lied.

“I think there are two issues here. One, if the president’s physician had just said, ‘Look, there’s a lot of things I can’t tell you,’ that would be bad in some ways because he is the leader of our country. We need to know if he’s got his faculties, if he’s actually able to lead the country right now, or if he’s incapacitated,” Fahrenthold said. “But he didn’t just do that. He actually lied. The White House physician actually lied about whether the president had had supplemental oxygen and then admitted the next day that he had lied. We can’t have somebody like that lying to us.”

“If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t talk about it. But there’s a position of trust there when you’re the president’s physician speaking to the country, don’t lie to us,” he added.

While there’s some speculation that the first administration of oxygen was only about 60 seconds, Fahrenthold still thinks the lie could have been avoided.

“What he said was, ‘the president didn’t have any oxygen yesterday,’ and that was untrue,” he explained. “I mean, if you think it’s not a big deal, say it’s not a big deal or just don’t talk about it. But don’t tell me something that’s not true.”

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross thinks it’s a generational thing as those in the Baby Boomer years are used to presidents lying about their medical conditions.

“We found that Kennedy lied about his medical condition. Nixon, I mean, we didn’t know he was on his knees praying to portraits and stuff like that until later,” Ross said. “Jimmy Carter was the first president I recall being brutally honest about his hemorrhoids, and that became a big subject of ridicule.”

“That supports the theory of you just don’t talk about it,” Fahrenthold replied. “Just don’t answer questions about the president’s health, but if you’re the president’s doctor and you come out to address the country and you lie about it and the next day you admit that you lied about it, any credibility you have is gone.”

Fahrenthold also recognizes the doctor could have been told what to say by his commander in chief, but he didn’t have to give any update.

“He’s free not to say anything,” he said. “He’s free not to have press conferences.”

Of course, the public and reporters requested updates, but as Fahrenthold again said, “nobody told him to lie.”

Meanwhile, the White House seems to have no interest in trying to determine how President Trump caught COVID-19 or from whom. The event in the Rose Garden to announce Amy Coney Barrett as the nominee for the Supreme Court seems to have been an important event for the spread, but there’s a good chance someone at the White House had it before then as well.

“To me, I don’t think that everybody we’re hearing about now that has this got it at the Amy Coney Barrett event. But I do believe the spread within that sort of Republican White House world certainly accelerated at that event,” Fahrenthold said.

“Which is extremely stupid, by the way,” he added. “They told everybody, they gave out these quickie, not very reliable tests. And when they passed the test, ‘just take your mask off like it’s 2019,’ which is a terrible idea in any circumstance.”

A number of news organizations, including the Washington Post, are doing their own investigations to figure out how widely this may have spread and where it all began.

“Just to give you a sense of how wide this is, we had to pull our daughter out of a soccer match because of some contamination on the soccer team that began at the White House,” Fahrenthold said. “… Somebody on her soccer team may have been exposed to somebody, who’s exposed to Trump.”

And the virus keeps spreading as more staff members at the White House were just confirmed to have COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning.

“I think the worst part is because you’re not doing contact tracing, there are a lot of people out there who may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic who are spreading it now and don’t even know because there’s been no effort to warn them,” Fahrenthold said.

Politically, Fahrenthold says the president’s recovery doesn’t appear to be giving him a boost in the polls.

“The polls that I’ve seen for him over the last few days that have happened since he got infected — there was one out of Pennsylvania this morning, and the national poll from CNN — have been terrible for the president,” Fahrenthold said. “I think he’s trying to say, ‘look, I overcame the virus,’ which I hope is true, … but he got it by being reckless, and I think there’s not a lot of public respect or reward from the public for somebody who is bragging about the fact that he gave himself a disease that they’re all trying to avoid.”

Washington Post reporter hopes Trump’s illness convinces people to protect themselves

Trump, his family, and his inner circle have been taking risks against the advice of the CDC, Fahrenthold pointed out.

“They were courting that risk for so long. And then Trump got it,” he said. “So, yeah, we don’t know who gave it to Trump, but he should have understood the risk. We’ve all known the risk for seven months, and he should have understood what to do so he wouldn’t get it.”

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Fahrenthold joins KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross every Tuesday on Seattle’s Morning News. Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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