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When Woodrow Wilson Caught the Flu
Believe it or not, President Trump is not the first president to contract the virus responsible for a global pandemic.
A century ago, Woodrow Wilson came down with a severe case of the flu behind the 1918 pandemic. He became so sick so quickly, his doctor at first suspected he’d been poisoned.
Wilson caught the flu shortly after arriving in Paris to negotiate peace talks at the conclusion of World War I.
Historians now say his illness may well have reshaped history.
Before he got sick, Wilson favored a more lenient deal for the Germans he thought would help facilitate the creation of his League of Nations.
After contracting the flu, however, he gave into French demands for a much harsher settlement that would become a precursor for the second world war.
It’s impossible to know exactly what role the flu played in Wilson’s change of heart, but his doctors noted a stark change in his behavior, and temporary psychosis was a common side effect of the 1918 flu.
Wilson spent five days in bed with a 103-degree fever. But the public was never told he’d contracted the flu.
His doctor told reporters he had a bad cold.
When Wilson suffered a stroke a few months later, the public never knew that his wife Edith Wilson essentially ran the country for the rest of his term.
Leaders Today Face a New Reality
For better or worse, leaders at the time thought the best way to show strength and keep the confidence of the American people was to hide President Wilson’s condition.
Today, it seems unbelievable that a bedridden president could be hidden from the public. Indeed, the expectation has been that President Trump’s doctors would provide near-constant updates, and they’ve been called to task when reporters claim they’ve been vague or evasive.
In today’s media landscape, it’s transparency and responsiveness that convey confidence. That’s true for elected officials, company leaders and organizations alike. It makes controlling the narrative more important than ever.