Politics - News Analysis
Horrifying New Report Reveals Dr. Birx Cared More About Appeasing Trump Than Public Health in Fight Against Pandemic
The New York Times has a deep dive worth every word, explaining how it was that the most wealthy nation on earth, with the greatest scientists and most sophisticated medical infrastructure, could fck-up COVID on a galactic scale that is leaving Americans pitied, pitied (!), throughout the world. Americans cannot go over to Canada to buy hockey equipment, golf clubs, and computers for a little less money this summer and fall. That is how far we’ve fallen.
Trump is obviously the primary reason for this humiliation and tragedy. But he isn’t the only one. The New York Times focuses much of its anger on Dr. Deborah Birx, an otherwise eminent physician and scientist who let her political weaknesses undermine her scientific integrity.
For scientific affirmation, they turned to Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the sole public health professional in the Meadows group. A highly regarded infectious diseases expert, she was a constant source of upbeat news for the president and his aides, walking the halls with charts emphasizing that outbreaks were gradually easing. The country, she insisted, was likely to resemble Italy, where virus cases declined steadily from frightening heights.
Yes, she likely left out the fact that when Italy locked down, they really fcking locked down as if their lives depended upon it – because they did. Italy didn’t have a MAGA head leader up for election in six months which Trump required a booming economy. It never occurred to the undereducated Trump (for whom money colors every decision) that defeating COVID decisively might help him politically (see abvove, i.e. money).
Dr. Birx was more central than publicly known to the judgment inside the West Wing that the virus was on a downward path. Colleagues described her as dedicated to public health and working herself to exhaustion to get the data right, but her model-based assessment nonetheless failed to account for a vital variable: how Mr. Trump’s rush to urge a return to normal would help undercut the social distancing and other measures that were holding down the numbers.
The editors of this site aren’t buying this in the least. Dr. Birx had to know that her “numbers” were contingent upon behaviors that didn’t match Trump’s plan. Yet she ran the numbers anyway, showing a positive trend, and the speculation is that she did so to please Trump and her political bosses.
Birx was rewarded for her willingness to say what the Trump administration wanted to hear. While Fauci kept on the fringe, Birx was given an office in the West Wing. We remain among friends who have worked within past White Houses. access to the Oval Office is the coin of the realm. Access is power. Birx had access because she’d cover Trump’s message, Fauci was relegated to giving talks to the Boise Stateman:
The Birx-Fauci Clash:
It was inevitable that two people – both acclaimed scientists, one attempting to navigate politics, one committed to telling truth, politics be damned:
Unlike Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx is a strong believer in models that forecast the course of an outbreak. Dr. Fauci has cautioned that “models are only models” and that real-world outcomes depend on how people respond to calls for changes in behavior — to stay home, for example, or wear masks in public — sacrifices that required a sense of shared national responsibility.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in political science or sociology to note which side of the political divide eschews any sense of shared national responsibility. Conservatives (Trumpers – since they’re not one and the same anymore) prefer to concentrate on their own needs, to benefit them, all the way down to the discomfort of a mask.
In his decades of responding to outbreaks, Dr. Fauci, a voracious reader of political histories, learned to rely on reports from the ground. Late at night in his home office this spring, Dr. Fauci, who declined to comment for this article, dialed health officials in New Orleans, New York and Chicago, where he heard desperation unrecognizable in the more sanguine White House meetings.
In other words, Fauci relied less upon numbers and more upon the behaviors that people actually exhibited. As the pandemic worsened, Dr. Fauci’s darker view of the circumstances was countered by the reassurances ostensibly offered by Dr. Birx’s data. And so, of course, the administration highlighted Dr. Birx’s message, always worried more about “brand” than truth.
Dr. Birx relied almost exclusively upon the University of Washington study which derived its numbers from a community that took the disease most seriously and continually reiterated that their numbers were nothing more than a daily snapshot.
The authors of the University of Washington model spoke to Dr. Birx or members of her team almost daily, they said, and often cautioned that their work was only supposed to offer a snapshot based on key assumptions, like people continuing to abide by social distancing until June 1.
The article is a deep deep dive as to what happened over the three-to-four months in which the U.S. lost the battle, but the devastating impact Dr. Birx had can be culled from a section that we use freely because the article is so long we believe we stay within fair use guidelines, and this will roil your blood:
“All metros are stabilizing,” she would tell them [administration officials,] describing the virus as having hit its “peak” around mid-April. The New York area accounted for half of the total cases in the country, she said. The slope was heading in the right direction. “We’re behind the worst of it.” She endorsed the idea that the death counts and hospitalization numbers could be inflated.
All of which might have been true if we followed Italy’s trajectory in rigid lockdowns and now have gaw-damned mask arguments and opening bars and restaurants because Trump wants to be reelected.
For Dr. Birx, Italy’s experience was a particularly telling — and positive — comparison. She routinely told colleagues that the United States was on the same trajectory as Italy, which had huge spikes before infections and deaths flattened to close to zero.
With the rather important exception of shutting down as seriously for a seriously long time.
“She said we were basically going to track Italy,” one senior adviser later recalled.
Dr. Birx would roam the halls of the White House, talking to Mr. Kushner, Ms. Hicks and others, sometimes passing out diagrams to bolster her case. “We’ve hit our peak,” she would say.
Really, this is all one needs to know. Birx, who tragically threw away a reputation unmatched by physicians and scientists throughout the world as a genius, a scientist, and a pioneering woman in a field which was not easy for women to enter at the time she did. In just a few short months she’s thrown that credibility away.
The article highlights many mistakes that have nothing to do with Birx, indeed most of the article features other failures. But we’ve chosen to highlight this one person’s fall, perhaps because she fell the furthest, and her fall couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“Above all else, do no harm.”
[email protected] and on Twitte @MiciakZom