Remember When Obama Scolded Cuomo Over Ebola?
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” said Barack Obama during an online commencement address to graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in mid-May.
Obama was referring to the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 business. Obama’s claim then, and has been ever since, that the Trump administration has been encouraging Americans to do “what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy” rather than imposing a draconian nationwide lockdown.
In fall 2014, however, it was Obama who was scolding America’s governors, Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo most notably, for being too restrictive in their handling of the Ebola outbreak. Not surprisingly, the media took Obama’s side. During his famously “scandal-free” eight years, just about every move Obama made was the right one. Democrat or not, if he tangled with Obama, even Cuomo was wrong.
As the Atlantic reported at the time, “The White House and senior public health officials made little secret of the fact their displeasure with Christie, a Republican, and with Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, after they hastily announced a new policy on Friday in which returning health workers would face mandatory 21-day quarantines.”
Ebola was inarguably more frightening than COVID. If the death rate for the latter is roughly 1 percent, the death rate from the former, certainly in Africa, hovered in the 50-60 percent range, and unlike COVID-19, it did not spare children.
Obama was unfazed. "America cannot look like it’s shying away, because people are watching what we do," said Obama. "America, in the end, is not defined by fear. That’s not who we are. We don’t just react based on our fears. We react based on facts, and judgments."
In reality, Obama was less interested in the “facts” than that certain “people” were watching, namely those in Africa and elsewhere who looked to Obama as the spiritual leader of the third world. The disease’s African provenance prevented Obama from putting facts first.
At the time, too, no one really knew what the facts were. As the Atlantic reported, “Despite the presidential prodding, the federal government is continuing to send somewhat of a mixed message.” The article linked to “new and detailed guidelines” from the Centers for Disease Control that were as ambiguous as any as they have put out in the last six months.
“As with everything we have done to respond to the threat of Ebola both at home and abroad, we have been guided by the best science available,” claimed the CDC. The problem for governors like Christie and Cuomo is that the science seemed to change daily.
If Christie could afford to blow off the White House, Cuomo could not. When the White House’s idea of a “policy based on science” failed to align with New York State’s, Cuomo had to jump. In late October 2014, the New York Times reported critically on Cuomo’s “second striking shift” in public posture within 72 hours.
“After urging calm on Thursday night,” the Times reported, “then joining Mr. Christie to highlight the risks of lax policy on Friday, Mr. Cuomo on Sunday night appeared to try to dial back his rhetoric and stake out a middle ground.”
From the beginning, the Trump administration has attempted to stake out something of a middle ground on COVID, allowing the individual states to make decisions based on their specific circumstances.
From day one, however, Trump has faced a mainstream media that has criticized virtually every decision his administration has made while recklessly peddling the fear that they studiously refrained from peddling while Obama was president. “The folks in charge” of the nation’s disease control under Trump, however, were the same ones who were in charge under Obama, Anthony Fauci most visible among them.
In her bold public resignation from MSNBC, producer Ariana Pekary described this ratings-driven phenomenon as a “cancer,” one that eats away at the integrity of all major media reporting.
“This cancer risks human lives, even in the middle of a pandemic,” wrote Pekary. “The primary focus quickly became what Donald Trump was doing (poorly) to address the crisis, rather than the science itself. As new details have become available about antibodies, a vaccine, or how COVID actually spreads, producers still want to focus on the politics. Important facts or studies get buried.”
They say that the only real difference between the American mainstream media today and the old Soviet Pravda was that Pravda readers knew they were being lied to. This is true enough, but there is an important second difference. The editors of Pravda never aspired to destroy the economy that made their living possible.