Chronicles of Bad Times at the CDC: Mistakes, White House Meddling

October 16, 2020

Reporters at ProPublica, The Wall Street Journal and Science have written in-depth accounts of CDC's faded role, damaged reputation and White House interference.

The CDC is the subject of three in-depth news reports that paint a portrait of the agency’s mistakes, diminished role in the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and interference by the White House.

ProPublica’s story, titled “Inside the Fall of the CDC,” is a closely reported, chronological account that starts on December 31st when Anne Schuchat, a CDC career scientists who was played by Kate Winslet in the movie “Contagion,” emails colleagues about an “unknown pneumonia” in Wuhan. The four-reporter team takes the reader through the bad and lack of information the CDC got from their Chinese health counterparts, the agency’s initial bungling of COVID-19 testing, and many episodes of White House interference.

“Senior CDC staff describe waging battles that are as much about protecting science from the White House as protecting the public from COVID-19. It is a war that they, more often than not, lost,” says the ProPublica piece.

The Wall Street Journal’s story is shorter but covers some of the same ground (both stories begin with accounts of the White House meddling with CDC guidelines for houses of worship). The headline on the Journal’s story is “A Demoralized CDC Grapples With White House Meddling and Its Own Mistake."

The third story, published in Science, the prestigious science journal, zeroes in on the relationship between Deborah Birx, M.D., the coordinator of White House coronavirus task force, and the CDC. The story, headlined “The Inside Story of How Trump’s COVID-19 Coordinator Undermined the World’s Top Health Agency,” describes Birx as sidelining the agency and goes into detail about her decision to depend on a private company, TeleTracking Technologies, to collect COVID-19 hospital data instead of the CDC’s system.

The ProPublica and Wall Street Journal stories were published within hours of each other earlier today. The Science article was published yesterday.