The CDC's 75% credibility problem
ABC News gets a hit, but Dr. Rochelle Walensky is spinning
There’s a big brouhaha in the political media circles over who has died from COVID. The CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said on ABC News that 75% of the deaths were people with at least four comorbidities. As a former ABC News producer, I can see exactly how 10 seconds of editing gave the CDC five days of playing defense on whether or not vaccines save lives and added to its serious credibility problem.
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It all started last Friday when Dr. Walensky was on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The anchor, Cecilia Vega, asked her about a new study to determine whether vaccines are effective at reducing hospitalization and death for those with high-risk factors.
VEGA: I want to ask you about those encouraging headlines that we’re talking about this morning, this new study showing just how well vaccines are working to prevent severe illness. Given that, is it time to start rethinking how we’re living with this virus, that it’s potentially here to stay?
ABC did not air the interview live, so it was able to edit the interview and cut off part of Walensky’s answer. This is what their 3.5 million viewers heard her say:
DR. WALENSKY: The overwhelming number of death, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron. This means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series, and yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.
The study— linked at the bottom— looks at so few COVID deaths that it is ridiculous that the CDC has spent days dealing with the public fallout.
1,228,664 people in their study had been vaccinated by October.
A tiny number of them -- just 2,246 -- got COVID. Then, of the 2,246, just 189 had a “severe outcome” which includes the 36 who died. And then those 36 people had four or more comorbidities.
75% goes viral
Three days after the show aired, a Twitter user clipped the original answer and shortened it to just 10 seconds, and ends the answer before she mentions vaccines:
The video on Twitter has almost 4 million views— that’s more than saw it on ABC News. People felt vindicated that the CDC has finally admitted the government has been fearmongering healthy people. A Fox News reporter put up the tweet:
Next, some doctors who have been ignored during the pandemic responded:
A conservative activist hinted that Walensky’s answer could be used in court:
The radio talk shows and podcast aired it:
Then a journalist who happened to scroll on Twitter at 7:30 p.m. Monday jumped on it without reading it for herself:
This is how a newsletter I intended to send out this morning is coming to your inbox after 6 p.m. I was writing last night about Walensky’s constantly changing answers and avoidance of key questions about COVID— watch Walensky on “Fox News Sunday” at the link at the bottom as an example.
When I went back to ABC News to watch her interview online instead of Twitter, I saw how the viral tweet put her answer out of context. So I tweeted a correction, threw out hours of work, and got to diving in deeper today.
Clean up on aisle 75
From my time in government, I’d bet the communications staff at the CDC and the White House must have called ABC in a fury. Walensky’s aides would have been in the studio when she taped and kept a recording of her full answer. They likely demanded the unedited version get aired and fixed.
Well, no journalist wants to admit fault. It’s the worst thing for our credibility. First, ABC put the unedited version just on Youtube with this
From YouTube, I can see ABC’s raw video is about 25 seconds longer than what aired. It shows the beginning part of Walensky’s answer that was cut:
You know, really important study, if I may just summarize it, a study of 1.2 million people who were vaccinated between December and October and demonstrated that severe disease occurred in about .015% of the people who received their primary series and death in .003% of those people.
Then late Tuesday, as I was putting my links to sources at the bottom of this story, I saw that ABC swapped out videos on its website to only show the raw video with the explanation. They must be getting a lot of angry calls from DC and Atlanta.
Anyway, only 17,000 people that I can tell so far have watched the full video. I’d bet most of them are reporters who are updating their stories to add “vaccinated” to 75% of COVID deaths headlines and adding the full answer that only ABC had until late Monday.
ABC is a scapegoat
I worked at ABC News for three years and the last part was as an associate producer at “Good Morning America.” I see where and why ABC made this edit.
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