Dr. Deborah Birx’s Bid to Salvage Her Reputation Is Too Little, Too Late
The doctor had a protected civil service job. She didn’t have to play to an audience of one with alternate facts to stay in Trump’s good graces, but that’s what she did.
History, we’re told, is written by the winners. But the first draft is often composed by whiners.
Hear the sonorous excuses for standing by Trump while hundreds of thousands of American died unnecessarily that former coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx offered in an hour-long look-back at the pandemic on CNN Sunday night, telling Dr. Sanjay Gupta that after the first 100,000 U.S. deaths from the virus, “all of the rest … could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.” She also complained about the personal crises she endured, like a “very uncomfortable” call from the president after she warned about the pandemic’s severity on TV.
Donald Trump shot back in a lengthy statement on Monday, defending his handling of COVID while calling Birx "a proven liar with very little credibility left" and Dr. Anthony Fauci—who also appeared in the program and who, the former president said, “would ask not to be in the same room as her”—“the king of ‘flip-flops.’” He then congratulated himself for not following the advice of “self-promoters” with “bad instincts and faulty recommendations.”
That came after former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows told former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon that “what we heard last night on CNN was rhetoric we never heard in the West Wing,” adding that the "uncomfortable" call had nothing to do with a TV appearance but with “the fact that Deborah Birx started talking about keeping schools closed and remote learning,” which he harrumphed was not “based on science” because Trump “never went against” the advice of medical advisers.
Oh sure, the medical experts advised that the coronavirus was the sniffles that would disappear like a miracle any day. But we expect no less of Trump or Meadows, who served at Trump’s pleasure and remains in his orbit. We deserve more from Birx, public servant and doctor. What’s the deep state for if not to save us from politicians? For months, Birx violated her oath to do no harm and for what: Trump’s approval, a Diet Coke in the Oval Office, feature stories about how she draped her Hermes scarves when the only stories should have been about how to wear a mask?
Dr. Anthony Fauci had the decency to grimace, wipe his brow, hip check Trump to get up to the podium and counter his fiction with a few facts. Even he could have done more but now he’s making up for lost time running our COVID response while Birx is on an apology tour to what purpose: our understanding of the tough spot she was in, or as the first step on her way to a cable gig, or to be forgiven? There are a half-million dead who can’t grant absolution and the rest of us who shouldn’t.
Instead, she should be forced to listen to a continuous loop of herself on CBN one year ago this week when she praised Trump’s handling of COVID. "He’s so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data,” she said, noting, his “ability to analyze and integrate data.” This takes her out of the category of intimidated bureaucrat and into that of quivering hack.
To be clear, Birx had a protected civil service job. She didn’t have to play to an audience of one with alternate facts to stay in Trump’s good graces. It wasn’t lost on Birx that at one of the first briefings on the virus, CDC Dr. Nancy Messonier spoke the truth about the sacrifices the pandemic would demand of us and was never seen at the podium again. No wonder Birx sat still with a Nancy Reagan gaze when Trump suggested bleach as a cure.
It wasn’t only Birx. Renowned doctors and scientists flinched under the hostile regime of Health and Human Service’s Alex Azar, a cabinet secretary pulled out of a hat. On CNN, former FDA Chief Stephen Hahn said he never shouted in their meetings but wouldn’t say the same of Azar, while CDC head Robert Redfield said Azar pressured him to change his guidance. Azar had someone on staff whose main job was to keep Fauci off the air.
Oddly, Mike Pence had his defenders. But only in the land of those blinded by Trump would the one-eyed man get a pass for his “good intentions,” good enough to do everything Trump wanted him to. He’s so in thrall to Trump, he’s forgiven him for almost getting him killed.
As part of his mandate to solve problems, President Joe Biden is racing to catch up with New Zealand, South Korea, and Germany, countries that saved the lives Birx conceded could have been spared here. He’s also just launched an investigation into tampering in scientific decisions and if he finds what’s obvious, build a wall to protect such decisions from any political interference going forward.
The Biden review isn’t academic. If a Republican wins in 2024, he or she will be in the Trump mold, if it’s not the man from Mar-a-Lago himself, now doing stand-up at weddings in his hotel he’s so starved for attention. He left behind a party that doesn't believe in government or in science: the pandemic, of course, and also melted polar ice caps, and extreme weather in Texas.
In all this, it's not just self-involved politicians who did the wrong thing but experts we rely on to do what’s right. Block out the self-serving accounts emerging now. History will tell us who was who.