T.fully under control, the new documentary directed by Alex Gibney (Going clear), Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, and written by Gibney, trace our last eight months of pandemic hell. What the film confirms, through careful examination of the facts and interviews with public health experts and public officials, is that Donald Trump and his administration have strategically endangered most Americans and US residents by downplaying the threat. and at the same time actively discouraging protective measures such as the mask. to wear. And not just that, but Trump and co. it created the conditions for bankruptcy by rejecting the government ̵
When Kayleigh McEnany held two large binders of pandemic plans apparently shaped by the Trump administration, comparing them to what she saw as a thin package provided by the Obama administration, she encapsulated the defining theater of Trumpism and the Republican Party in general. Pump and circumstances prevail over common sense and care; it is more important to get your supporters to believe that you have solved it than to actually have control over anything.
Now that Trump, McEnany, immigrant kidnapper Stephen Miller, and several other Trump associates have contracted COVID-19 (just days after Hillinger, Harutyunyan and Gibney finished their film), the chaos has finally returned. However, as Gibney pointed out, these officials all have access to the best health care this country has to offer; the rest of us who get sick will end up on the phone with insurance companies struggling to adjust their bills at best, or languish without medical care, at worst. Meanwhile, Trump will continue his photo shoots, filming the spectacle of his own illness for whatever political gain he can reap and, once again, for the benefit of no one else, not even those who continue to support him with savage fervor.
The Daily Beast spoke to the directors about the difference between negligence and willful destruction, whether Woodward should have dropped those tapes when he recorded them, the status of complaints in the United States and Totally under control, which will be released on demand on October 13 and on Hulu on October 20.
The film focuses on this idea of neglect, but also touches on several instances where Trump and his administration gain financially from his negligent approach to the pandemic. Was it something you were thinking about – that maybe this is beyond clumsiness or neglect?
Alex Gibney: I think you are describing our process. The question at the beginning was: was it a fumble? Was it just an administration caught unprepared and unaware? Was it the thinning of the federal government that Trump got involved in? But what we’ve discovered over time, particularly with things like the Obama administration’s delivery of the playbook; the cruise; and the contagion exercise, which was published a few months before the actual pandemic and contains all the information needed to manage it; then the way the whole test episode was so poorly handled, coupled with the revelation we got from Woodward, feels much more intentional. [Obama HHS secretary] Kathleen Sebelius also says, “It first occurred to me that we were intentionally testing slow walking.” And, you know, sometimes Trump isn’t mysterious about these things. He says, “Slow down the tests, please” and “I want the numbers to go up, keep the cruise ship out.” It really is a terrifying idea. Imagine if an oncologist operated that way, where you see a polyp and then decide, well, let’s wait and see if it goes away.
Ophelia Harutyunyan: And in the case of the Airbridge program, it raised a lot of questions. There are senators – Senator Warren and others – who have opened an investigation and are looking into the matter as we speak. They are demanding registrations from these companies to see how much they profited from being the companies arbitrarily chosen by the government and that the Trump administration is working with to fundamentally subsidize the shipping costs to carry PPE. So there are obviously still questions out there, whether or not there was some kind of intentional profit from the government. Hopefully these are questions that will be answered soon.
Speaking to Bob Woodward’s revelation that Trump knew from the start that COVID-19 was serious and would spread, what are your thoughts on saving that information for his book, which came out very late in the game?
Gibney: I don’t think it was appropriate. I’ve seen it say that people who believe in Trump would have ignored any criticism of him anyway, so what’s the point, but I just don’t see it that way. It seemed to me that in the midst of a pandemic – it was very early, February 7 – when everyone was trying to address what this virus represented and what its threat was, to reveal that the president knew how deadly an important would be. public service.
Harutyunyan: There are people who have died as a result of misinformation, and if they had heard in early February, people who perhaps trusted President Trump back then, a tape saying the virus is “deadly” and “serious”, I think it would have made a difference for sure.
At the center of the documentary was also the willingness of whistleblowers to speak out against an administration that almost exclusively rewards loyalty. Yet, in recent months, so many civil servants have feared losing their jobs when they have spoken. Are whistleblowers so unprotected that so many people have no faith in any sense of justice in this country, that even people with rather comfortable jobs are afraid to speak up?
Gibney: They were definitely worried about coming forward and it took some persuasion. That said, when we approached him, Rick Bright had already given a testimony in Congress and appeared briefly 60 minutes– and he was still worried and nervous and part of the federal government. Max Kennedy, the former volunteer for the IPR acquisition effort led by Jared Kushner, was also concerned. He’s a 23-year-old boy and he’s sticking his head over the railing. But I think in both cases they felt their stories needed to be told because it showed from the inside what was really going on, which was so important with an administration trying so desperately to hide what is happening inside.
“… they felt their stories needed to be told because it showed from the inside what was really going on, which was so important with an administration trying so desperately to hide what is going on inside.“
I’ll say though, one thing I’ve learned over time – and I started learning this lesson when I shot a movie about Enron – is that we don’t have very good whistleblower protection. And also, as a company, we don’t really like whistleblowers. I remember when I was shooting the Enron movie, one of the two questions I got almost every time I appeared was: “Sharon Watkins”, the informant of that story, “who does he think he is?” and “Why do you think you’re so good?” And I thought, all the questions to ask about the Enron story with so many people losing their jobs, this one? There was so much economic chaos and calamity that you wonder, “Who does that informant think he is?” testifies that there is something about informants that makes us uncomfortable. Like they were showing us and spying on somehow – and I find that creepy, and it would be refreshing if we could go through a cultural perspective to change that.
We have also, also culturally, placed so much faith in the executive branch. And a lot of what you’re establishing in the film is that you have to trust the scientists in a pandemic situation and get out of the way. However, in the United States, we have a political system that is so built around the executive. I know that, for all of you, it was really about drawing the facts of history and not necessarily an obvious political perspective, but have you ever thought about our government and how it works in the first place?
Suzanne Hillinger: What was so interesting was that we started looking at who politicians were appointed and how much power they have. I think it’s something that through the lens of the pandemic story becomes really obvious. When you look at the minutiae of daily government, you don’t really see it, but when you discover that someone like Alex Azar, who ran a pharmaceutical company for a long time, is now in charge of HHS, overseeing the FDA and CDC, you realize how much power has and you can’t help but think, where are his covenants? This is really enlightening to understand our government and also look to the CDC.
And to answer your whistleblower question: I think for so many people working in public health, the CDC is the gold standard. People go to school and get PhDs and want to finish with the CDC because they can really help shape research and politics in this country. I think it is especially difficult for career scientists in the CDC to come forward because they never imagined this would be part of their job. They never imagined that the research and the message they believed was so important to communicate to the American people would not come out through the CDC. They have been put in a terrible position.
It sees, with the many healthcare professionals who have opposed the government and their employers demanding IPR during this pandemic, a movement towards a different kind of approach for career scientists and healthcare professionals who typically need to be neutral due to who are they dealing with?
Gibney: One thing we found, in terms of talking to doctors despite this pandemic, was that they felt enormously frustrated that they weren’t allowed to do their jobs properly. And this is something that I think was evident to them. And part of that was the Trump administration, but part of that too is a dysfunctional public health system that we have in this country, which I think people realize more and more needs to be fixed.
Hillinger: Something that was hinted at but didn’t make it into the film that I think is really important to understand is the way funding is released to public health agencies across the country: it’s during some sort of emergency, like a pandemic, that all ‘Suddenly they have the funds that are used, for example, to upgrade their computers so that their monitoring programs can work really well. And I think a big lesson has been learned through the test delays and lack of supplies and all we have found through this is that we need a different system to be able to make sure our public health agencies can be be prepared for whatever emergency comes your way so as not to react whenever there is chaos, so be prepared in advance. And I think it was something that many medical professionals we spoke to were quite willing to point out.
What were your thoughts when you started hearing about Trump and all his co-workers who got sick? And with that show of Trump having his secret services, take him out in front of his supporters at Walter Reed, and with the videos he posted, what does this next manifestation of his response look like for you?
Harutyunyan: He endangers people with the tweets he is sending and the actions he is doing right now. I thought, “OK, now that he’s caught the virus, maybe he’ll change his messaging. Maybe he’ll understand how serious this can be.” And actually it was just the opposite: Pretending everything’s okay, it puts so many in danger. people because there are many people who admire it. For the past two, three days I’ve just watched the news and can’t believe what I’m seeing, because I know more people are going to die from this.
Gibney: I think what we have seen as a show is a metaphor for what we have been experiencing since January, which is the replacement of political theater for public safety. And it is intentionally putting people at risk for political gain. There are many politicians who are willing to sacrifice a lot to get elected or re-elected, but when you see it so sharply where someone who knows how deadly the virus is, and we know it from their own words, is willing to let people die for being able to safeguard his political future is terrifying. But then you see him in a capsule form where in his Evita-like moment, he rips off his mask to tell his supporters, “You know, you were right never to wear masks” and “I beat this virus. That’s nothing. “knowing that he is a man of enormous privileges and receives the kind of treatment that no other American in the country can get, because he is president of the United States and therefore does not have to take the same kind of risk that others do, even if he does them. puts you at risk. It was shocking.
Do you see any hope for a coordinated immediate response beyond this administration that will work for the people? Some have argued that even if Trump hadn’t been in power, we would have faced a lot of problems in this country with COVID-19 because most of our leaders don’t support the one-time payment or actually no public health system that would support the vulnerable.
Harutyunyan: I can answer as a foreigner. The healthcare system in this country was astounding for me. I still do not understand. I think there are so many problems that I look at and I can clearly see that so many other countries solved it years ago or decades ago and it is possible. And here, the Americans say, “Oh, it’s not possible. Universal health care isn’t possible. Free education isn’t possible. Paid maternity leave and paternity leave are not possible.” But there are so many simple things that so many other countries have understood. Many Americans have somehow been convinced that this is not possible. The whole insurance system, the way it works in America: there are deductibles and deductibles are high and there’s still a copay, and then there’s [coinsurance]. I mean, there are so many [out-of-pocket expenses]. I’ve been in this country for eight years and I’m still confused about how it works. And sometimes when I get a bill and look at how much it would cost me if I didn’t have insurance, I say there must be a better way. And there is a better way.
This is the one thing that the Republican Party has perhaps convinced people that if you have universal health care, that’s socialism, but that’s just the basics. We don’t have to be a socialist country to have universal health care. Why can’t we offer it to people? And so I think there needs to be systemic change and we need to educate people about the possibilities of these things and how these are just the foundation for living in this moment in the 21st century, that humans deserve to have good health care,
Gibney: And what most people don’t understand is that we have socialism in this country. It is limited only to the rich and powerful. Everyone in Congress has a great health plan.