CNN’s Jake Tapper peddled a disproven theory on Sunday that Dr. Nancy Messonnier, MD, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), was silenced by the White House for urging American preparedness in the early stages of the pandemic.
Tapper suggested that, instead of listening to Messonnier about the potential for community spread and school closures at the end of February, President Donald Trump “downplayed the threat and lied to the American people about government preparedness.”
“Just imagine if eight months ago today, if Dr. Messonnier had been encouraged, heeded, amplified, instead of silenced,” Tapper said. “If everyone had started preparing for the worst-case scenario as she advised, how many Americans might be alive today? How many more will die unnecessarily because President Trump silences and intimidates those who attempt to correct his lies about the pandemic with facts? The facts we all benefit from and we all could have benefited from if Dr. Messonnier had been supported and not treated as if facts and truth were the actual virus to be isolated.”
Tapper said his sources confirmed Messonnier was silenced by officials at HHS after being told to “lay low.” He also said that the CDC briefings used by Messonnier to communicate information were curbed by Vice President Mike Pence.
“The public has not heard from Dr. Messonnier since March. She has not even tweeted since then,” Tapper said. “To this day, as much as Dr. Messonnier loves communicating with health care providers in the public, sources tell me she does not want to do it anymore because to do so would put her on the important work of the CDC in jeopardy.”
.@jaketapper on Dr. Messonnier, a CDC official who sounded the alarm on the severity of the pandemic months ago and was silenced by the administration: Sources say she doesn't want to speak publicly because doing so "would put her and the important work of the CDC in jeopardy” pic.twitter.com/NuIQHxby6P
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) October 25, 2020
Tapper’s claims, however, simply echo the false and unsubstantiated talking points from the Biden Campaign in early March about Messonnier, along with others, being silenced and removed from giving public briefings soon, which were already debunked by factcheck.org and given “four Pinocchios” by the Washington Post.
“The President and the White House sent a clear message to scientists in the government: there will be a price for speaking out and speaking up,” Ron Klain, former White House Ebola Response Coordinator and Biden’s former chief of staff in a video posted to Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden’s Twitter page.
“The coronavirus is not Donald Trump’s fault. The fact that our country was not ready for it and responded so slowly, well…” he added.
Everyone knows that we're facing a real crisis from the coronavirus. But do you know how we got here and what we need to do next? Ron Klain, former White House Ebola Response Coordinator, breaks it down for us: pic.twitter.com/XRkIw2EzM4
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 21, 2020
As both fact checks note, however, Messonnier was not part of the White House Coronavirus task force which is why she no longer attended public briefings following Feb. 25.
The fact checks also note that, contrary to Klain and Tapper’s claims, Messonnier did stay active in sharing information and offering her advice about COVID-19 mitigation.
“Meanwhile, far from being silenced, Messonnier kept doing her telephone briefings with reporters — on Feb. 28, Feb. 29, March 3 and March 9. She also appeared in four videos shared on social media, such as this one from March 14,” WaPo notes.
Messonnier also did a podcast in July, spoke at a meeting at the CDC in early September, gave an interview to WebMD on September 21, spoke at a conference on September 24, and recently shared a virtual stage with CNN’s own Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta.
CDC Director Robert Redfield even testified in a House Appropriations Committee in June that Messonnier “has not been sidelined” in the government’s response to COVID-19.
In addition to Tapper’s erroneous claims about Messonnier, his not-so-subtle criticism of the Trump Administration’s response was also riddled with contextual problems.
While Tapper claimed that Trump “downplayed the threat and lied to the American people about government preparedness,” ignoring Messonnier’s cautionary words, he failed to acknowledge that Messonnier and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also offered the same sentiment in late February, telling Americans that “we are reasonably well prepared.”
“We’ve had a pandemic preparedness plan that we put together years ago,” Fauci said on Feb. 26. “Mitigation means to be prepared to do things that would slow down the spread if we had an influx of infections, such as closing schools, social distancing, teleworking, and things like that. We need to start thinking about that now, even though it isn’t absolutely necessary to implement it now.”
“To date, our containment strategies have been largely successful,” Messonnier noted.
Tapper also cited a Columbia University study that claimed 130,000 to 210,000 lives “could’ve been saved” if Trump listened to health experts’ warnings such as Messonnier’s. The CNN segment, however, never mentioned that Fauci, a health expert, contradicted some of these proposed mitigation techniques.
“Right now, at this moment, there’s no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day by day basis,” Fauci said on Feb. 29.
“This could be a major outbreak. I hope not. Or it could be something that’s reasonably well controlled. At the end of the day, this will ultimately go down,” Fauci said.