But one of the points that you make, I think very powerfully, throughout the film is the dissonance between what the president was saying publicly and what the experts behind the scenes knew to be true. But worse than that is that the Trump administration had actually conducted a vigorous exercise in 2019 in which they anticipated what it might look like if a coronavirus from China came and was of pandemic proportions in the United States. And also, what do we need to do to get ahead so that we're not constantly reacting? And I'd like to see if I could do it quickly enough so that it would actually come out, you know, before the election so that what I discover would be useful to the American public in terms of making a - rendering a judgment. MARTIN: One of the big points that you make in the film addresses something that the president says a lot and that his supporters say all the time. I think we came close to solving that mystery. (SOUNDBITE OF DIRK MAASSEN'S "SINAAI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR. But it was definitely something - there's something happening here. What this task force involved, Kennedy reveals, was a brief pep talk at the beginning from Kushner, who they never saw again, and then weeks of cold calling and unreturned pleading emails in search of PPE as the whole enterprise, which was nothing more than a reality show contrivance for the cameras, collapsed. And, yes, it's a different culture. You clearly kind of - the making of this was clearly a sort of an act of intense will (laughter) to get it done. We didn't do this on behalf of the DNC. It's going to be just fine. So if the Obama administration had done it, they were going to do the opposite. And I think the answer, unfortunately, is pretty dark. MARTIN: There's so much here, and there are just so many sort of points to kind of dig into. Filmmaker Alex Gibney is with us now to tell us more about his latest work. So that seemed relevant. Does Showtime's 'Moonbase 8' Have The Right Stuff?
What it is ain't (ph) exactly clear - that kind of thing. We did this as a fact-finding exercise to find out if, in fact, the federal response had been bungled by this administration. And that is (laughter) one of the great mysteries. I think we came close to solving that mystery. And that is (laughter) one of the great mysteries.
So if the Obama administration had done it, they were going to do the opposite. Filmmaker Alex Gibney is with us now to tell us more about his latest work. So the very thing you saw to avoid the damage to the economy is what happened precisely because of what he did, which was to allow the disease to spread even though he knew how dangerous it was.
GIBNEY: First of all, the Trump administration just had utter contempt for everything about the Obama administration. Quite clearly, the government led by President Trump does not have this crisis under control, with more than 220,000 people dead, small businesses shuttering by the day, unemployment at record levels and lines at food banks on the rise. So that seemed relevant. Why did you pick South Korea? And I'd sure like to do a film about it.
We have it totally under control.
We were sort of in the epicenter of the pandemic.
Instead, Trump took to his MAGA rally stages and called the virus a Democratic hoax, and sadly more than 218,000 of us are no longer here to contradict him. And the question the film sets out to answer is, why?
And they decide that they're going to move quickly to start distributing COVID-19 tests, which they had already, you know, developed and were in the process of manufacturing, to the entire country so they can get their eyes on the disease. And that looks bad, and then maybe that hurts the economy. We were sort of in the epicenter of the pandemic. And the United States didn't put in place a national testing program, even the beginnings of it, until late February. (SOUNDBITE OF DIRK MAASSEN'S "SINAAI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR. His line up of interviews is typically illuminating, too. So these were places that were hard to get into. © Copyright 2020 Irish Studio LLC All rights reserved. Onscreen Bowen eventually breaks down when he thinks of all the lives he could have saved, had someone in Trump's orbit cared enough to even respond to him. MARTIN: That was Alex Gibney. Or did you know from the outset what was wrong and set out to show it? What was your starting point?
And that is (laughter) one of the great mysteries.
And the film is out now. Alex Gibney, thanks so much for joining us. Gibney pointedly reminds us just how unprepared and out of control America was when the virus hit. GIBNEY: It was the former. MARTIN: There are those who will view this documentary as itself a political document because you've said you had a lot of things going on.
Alex Gibney, thanks so much for talking with us again. BETH CAMERON: The playbook was intended to allow people in the White House to ask questions. (SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL"). And you did want to get it in time, before the election. So I just - you're left with this question of, you know, why?
In a couple of days, it's going to be down to close to zero. Why wouldn't you go to the very playbook that you had spent so much time developing in addition to the one that you were handed by the Obama administration? It’s going to be just fine.”.
So I just - you're left with this question of, you know, why? What should we do?
GIBNEY: It really is a staggering question. GIBNEY: Well, one was because the starting point was the same - January 20.
And just two months later, the real pandemic hits. Culture's different. You know, I remember thinking that I should do this film - and I had no business doing it because I was doing a lot of other things. In South Korea, seven days after they discovered that first COVID-positive patient, they have this emergency meeting in the Seoul train station with government leaders and also heads of industry. It's a new documentary by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Artinian and Suzanne Hillinger. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org. And, yes, it is a smaller country, but it's a country of 51 million people. Maybe that hurts your reelection chances. But it was definitely something - there's something happening here. But you also pointed out - this is something that I think a lot of people may know - that the Obama administration had left plans in place to deal with pandemics, plans that were set up because of a less-than-satisfactory response to the Ebola crisis.
I mean, it's involved in politics, and it's involved in democracy, but it's not partisan.