Shame on Deborah Birx

She wasn't doing her best in a bad situation. She was aiding and abetting the federal government's COVID disaster.

1. Culpability

Doctor Deborah Birx is out trying to rehabilitate herself. Most recently she sat down with CNN for an interview. There are two especially newsworthy clips.

Here’s the video of the first, with Birx talking about a “very difficult” phone call she had with President Trump. And here’s a transcript:

Birx: I knew I was being watched. Everybody inside was waiting for me to make a misstep so that they could, I guess, remove me from the task force. . . .

The CNN report in August that got horrible pushback . . . that was a very difficult time because everybody in the White House was upset with that interview, umm, and the clarity that I brought about the epidemic.

Gupta: I can tell just by reading your face, that was a really tough time. What happened?

Birx: Well I got called by the president.

Gupta: What does he say?

Birx: Well I think you’ve heard other conversations that people have posted with the president. I would say that it was even more direct than what people have heard. It was very uncomfortable, very direct, and very difficult to hear.

Gupta: Were you threatened?

Birx: I would say it was a very uncomfortable conversation.

And here’s Birx admitting something that I can barely comprehend:

Here’s the transcript:

I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse. There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially. If we took the lessons we had learned from that moment. That’s what bothers me ever day.

“Bothers”? Bothers?

Missing your flight should bother you. A neighbor throwing a loud party late on a weeknight should bother you.

Bother is not the appropriate reaction if you were party to a government response which resulted in not 5 or 10 excess deaths. Not 100 or 200 excess deaths. Not 1,000 or 10,000 excess deaths. Not 50,000 or 100,000 excess deaths. Not 250,000 excess deaths.

But coming up on 500,000 additional dead Americans.

I am sorry Hermés Scarf Lady. Sorry that you had an uncomfortable conversation and sorry that you are bothered, but you should be forking haunted by what happened on your watch and shamed and shunned by every peer in your profession, for the rest of your days.

So let’s talk about Deborah Birx.


2. Resistance

I understand the idea that, in an imperfect world, sometimes you have to compromise yourself. Sometimes you find that you can do more good working within the system. That's the impulse that motivated Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster and a bunch of other people who took high-level jobs in the Trump administration.

Separating the goats from the sheep here—the people who were genuinely trying to serve versus the people who were on the make—is, in many cases, a judgment call. I might suggest, say, that in the summer of 2020 Anthony Fauci could have done more good for the country by either resigning or forcing Trump to fire him, and then blowing the whistle, every hour of every day. But I can understand the argument that, by standing his ground and daring Trump to fire him, Fauci was taking a wise course of action.

I get that.

But whatever Birx was doing, she was also aiding and abetting Trump.

For example, here she is, apropos of nothing, testifying to Trump’s cognitive abilities:

Here she is using ridiculously cherry-picked data to suggest that testing in the U.S. was going great in the early days:

Here she is helping along the “things are okay” narrative in late March of 2020, as we were closing in on 20,000 new cases a day, even with a dearth of testing:

Here she is standing next to Trump and bending over backwards not to admit that rushing to “reopen” the country for Easter 2020 was a ridiculous idea:

Here she is testifying to Trump’s greatness as a leader:

Here she is helping Trump try to downplay the mortality rate of COVID:

Reporting has long suggested that Birx was constantly cherry-picking data that supported Trump’s wishcasting:

And here’s the Washington Post with some more accountability:

“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,” the Times reported. She would reportedly distribute diagrams aimed at supporting her case, telling people that the country had hit its peak — “and that message would find its way back to Mr. Trump.”

That the United States would surge beyond Italy was quickly apparent. Even by July, we hadn’t seen a pattern like Italy’s: It had largely suppressed the virus, but the United States never did. Italy’s case totals surged in the fall, passing the United States on a population-adjusted basis, but by late November the United States had again taken the lead.

It wasn’t just behind closed doors that Birx’s claims were questionable. Over and over, the data she presented at White House press briefings was overly rosy or obviously misleading. We documented such statements on March 27 (the day she praised Trump’s reliance on data), April 6 and April 16. A claim such as stating that there was a “low level of cases” in 40 percent of the country because 19 states had few cases is clearly misleading, for example, given that those 19 states represented only 7 percent of the country’s population.

Absolutely, utterly, unforgivably shameful.

Deborah Birx is not a political actor. She is not a know-nothing TV talking head. She is a scientist and a professional who knew better. Who took an oath.

Remember Deborah Birx and what she did. Her name should live in infamy.


We have to move forward as a country. But progress can’t happen without accountability.

Hold Them Accountable

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3. COVID Family Feud

From tragedy to farce:

Admiral Brett Giroir, then an assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, had been put in charge of testing, and he had plenty of concerns. But on that afternoon he was mostly concerned about one essential component of the testing process: swabs. Specifically, the particular 6-inch swab flexible enough to sweep the depths of the nasopharynx where the coronavirus replicates, the one now known as the brain tickler, and the only one approved for testing for such respiratory viruses. The U.S. had enough of them to conduct about 8,000 tests a day. That was short by three orders of magnitude . . .

Giroir was in his office early Saturday afternoon when one of his staffers finally reported back: “Sir, I’m sorry to inform you what we initially thought were 10 to 15 swab producers are in fact only distributors.” Giroir was further told that only two companies in the world make the swabs: Copan Diagnostics Inc. in northern Italy, an area then being ravaged by Covid-19, and a small, family-owned business in Maine called Puritan Medical Products Co. . . .

It was Saturday evening when Timothy Templet, the co-owner and executive vice president for global sales, saw a Washington, D.C., number flash across his cellphone. Giroir told Templet he needed about 100,000 nasopharyngeal swabs within a week. Templet told the admiral that wouldn’t be possible. Giroir asked him to reconsider. The next morning, Templet told him it would be possible.

Never before had Puritan, founded a century ago in the tiny town of Guilford, been more important. And never before had it been so dysfunctional. A yearslong feud between the two owners, Templet and his cousin John Cartwright, had left the business in a management crisis. Three weeks before Giroir’s call, Templet had filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court to dissolve their joint ownership of Puritan and its other business, Hardwood Products Co., which had started out making mint-flavored toothpicks, because of “major, longstanding and irreconcilable disagreements” between him and his cousin.

Read the whole thing.