ABC News dropped a bombshell last month, one purposely downplayed by other national media sites. What was ABC’s big scoop? That former President George W. Bush’s efforts in 2005 worked to ensure America would be prepared for a pandemic, such as the one we are currently experiencing.
The report was surprising, because a cynic could well conclude that when it comes to coverage of national emergencies and health threats in America most national media outlets reflexively fault Republican presidents for their responses to hurricanes, floods, and virus outbreaks. But when Democrat presidents face similar “acts of God,” they are portrayed as empathetic leaders rallying the country to confront a tragedy outside of their control. Given that, the lack of follow-up to ABC’s well-reported story is easy to explain. But here are the facts:
In 2005, President Bush and his administration put in place a comprehensive, national pandemic preparedness and response plan. “If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare,” Bush said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health in November 2005. “To respond to a pandemic, we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment.”
This strategic initiative was an intense three-year effort lasting from late 2005 through January 2009, included $7 billion in funding, and created national stockpiles of critical supplies, such as face masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). When the Bush administration came to an end in January 2009, so did the focus on a pandemic preparedness plan. In 2009, the Obama-Biden administration shelved the national pandemic response strategy, eliminated the White House Health and Security Office, and dumped the initial set of pandemic regulations. The Obama administration took pandemics so lightly that one day after declaring a national emergency for health reasons due to the H1N1 virus, the White House hosted 2000 children for a Halloween event despite the virus being a high risk for children.
Stockpiles of face masks, syringes, hospital beds, ventilators, and other emergency materials were used for the 2009 H1N1 virus. The stockpiles served their purpose but were never fully replenished by the Obama-Biden administration. For instance, the Washington Post reported the stockpile was not replaced, even though almost 100 million masks were distributed in 2009. Similarly, the Obama-Biden administration did not re-stock the supply of ventilators. How bad is this record on pandemic planning? Even Joe Biden doesn’t want to be identified with the effort.
It wasn’t just supplies. Building on the pandemic response plan, the CDC recommended in December 2008 to the Obama-Biden transition team that it expand regional disease detection centers. The recommendation was ignored. Over four years, the NIH and CDC saw their funding cut by more than $1 billion, this after the Obama-Biden administration had just emerged from the H1N1 crisis. In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration got another opportunity to get pandemic preparedness and response right when the Ebola virus threat erupted. Again, it didn’t respond with any sense of urgency. The Obama-Biden point man for Ebola, Christopher Kirchhoff, conceded, “We didn’t follow through.”
The great challenge with a “stockpile” of any commodity is that by its nature, it is stored away but ready to be accessed. The same is true of facts and history. With facts out of sight and out of mind, people try to re-write what has not been recalled. Still, the facts remain.
I’ve experienced this first-hand with this pandemic. Just a few weeks ago, national media rushed out stories about a single confirmed coronavirus case at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which I run. The media onslaught included speculation that the president, vice president, and about half the cabinet might be infected.
Reporters from outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN sought to create panic among the thousands of attendees, and to violate an individual’s private medical information in efforts to “out” the patient. The coverage was hysterical, not based on facts, while at the same time the Washington Post and New York Times were making light of the virus in their own pages. Yet Fox News is the “irresponsible” media outlet?
Today, the media is working overtime to whitewash its very real and irresponsible role in the spread of Chinese misinformation, if not the virus itself. Whether it’s the media’s refusal back in January to fully investigate the role of labs in Wuhan where the virus took root, or the media’s sharing without question the World Health Organization’s inaccurate data on the Chinese virus, reporters, editors, TV producers, and executives know what they did – and did not do – over the past few months.
They want the American public to forget about those massive stockpiles of facts. Let’s use that stockpile to ensure that what is occurring now never happens again.