Virus is a strange little book from liberal journalist Nina Burleigh, seemingly written solely to blame Trumpism, religious zealots, and capitalism for the deadly toll of the coronavirus in America. The full title, Virus: Vaccinations, The CDC, And The Hijacking Of America’s Response To The Pandemic, actually underplays the sneering tone that warps this short, nasty book.
On the first page we learn “this story involves mass death, religious zealots, and the worst case of government malpractice in the history of the United States.” Such rhetoric, to put it mildly, calls into question Burleigh’s claim that she “tried to take a broad and balanced view of the pandemic response in government, in politics, and in culture.”
The sneering accusations hurled at the Trump administration will no doubt energize lefty readers and please Burleigh’s publishers at left-wing Seven Stories Press. But surely there is enough to fault in the previous administration’s pandemic response without smearing it as a band of killers led by “a malignant clown”?
Religiously motivated killers, no less. Burleigh encourages her readers to look beyond the “deplorables” and see that “Trump’s true backers were crony capitalists and stone-cold Koch-bro antigovernment ideologues. They were flanked by Rapture-ready religious zealots.” For limited government advocates, “the pandemic was a gift from God.”
Burleigh’s fixation on religious zealotry, especially regarding abortion, that only she can detect provides the book much of its vitriolic zip. Dr. Anthony Fauci is beloved, while Dr. Deborah Birx is dismissed as being “aligned with homophobic organizations.” (How odd, then, that Birx had previously worked in the Obama administration.)
Defenses of Planned Parenthood show up bizarrely often in a book ostensibly about the coronavirus. She attacked Vice President Mike Pence’s “antipathy to science” for his attempt to defund the abortion mill while serving as a congressman from Indiana.
Burleigh really loves abortion. During the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in 1998, Burleigh, then a Time magazine contributor, notoriously told The Washington Post she’d perform sexual favors for Bill Clinton for keeping abortion legal. “I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs,” she wrote.
Politically motivated inconsistencies abound. She writes petulantly of Trump’s drive to get vaccines swiftly online via Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership to accelerate vaccine development and delivery, while spreading thinly evidenced suggestions of muckraking. Then she turns around and blames the administration for not making vaccines a priority!
She let Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet medical journal, describe Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization as a “crime against humanity.” Yet later she admits “The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] and the WHO [World Health Organization] and other experts initially told the public not to worry about masking up.” Naturally, she skips recounting how the WHO credulously deferred to China, who spread misinformation about the virus’ impacts and origins during the critical early weeks of the pandemic.
She approvingly cites an Oxfam report “blaming the American economic system for how the pandemic starved and killed the poor and brown while enriching the rich and white in America,” kindling further suspicions this book is more an anti-Trump temper tantrum than an objective dissection of the Trump administration’s virus response. Free-market greed is to blame for everything: “Nothing about this obscene picture is accidental. It is a consequence of decades of a philosophy that came to prevail after Ronald Reagan’s election.”
It’s a shame, because when she reins in the vitriol, Burleigh can be informative. There are clear explanations of how viruses evolve and how mRNA vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna work. We learn the virologist Jonas Salk, a public icon for developing a polio vaccine, was “loathed by colleagues for his ego and unwillingness to share credit.” She even makes conservative arguments, perhaps unknowingly, about how corrupted polio vaccines resulted in “product liability lawsuits” which “chilled pharmaceutical innovation for years to come,” particularly for low-profit preparations like vaccines.
But the closer to current events she gets, the more her journalistic instincts devolve into ideological ranting and contradiction. You wonder if the author was even paying attention in 2020 when she rants “Americans wouldn’t wear masks and wouldn’t stay home.” Did Burleigh truly not catch the dystopian-film-style shots of major American cities from spring 2020 and beyond? Whatever mistakes were made, they were not rooted in a lack of sacrifice by average Americans.
After blaming selfishness and capitalism for Americans not staying home to stop the spread, she then blames capitalism for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos having doubled his wealth during the pandemic. But wasn’t Amazon delivery helping Americans stay home and stop the spread? She despairs that people had become “strangers to each other.” Perhaps staying home and masking up had something to do with that?
And while the author snottily observes a “growing antipathy among a sector of Americans toward science and experts,” the actual Covid facts that have proliferated after Virus’s release have further depreciated its value as journalism.
Burleigh loves masks almost as much as she loves abortion, complaining of “red-blooded, liberty-loving Americans ripping their masks off and fighting with store managers in Target and Walmart.” Yet a meta-study suggested authoritarian measures like mask mandates didn’t budge the Covid death rate. With blue states tearing down mask mandates before facing the voters in November, and entertainment elites parading bare-faced in front of masked servers, religious faith in masking has surely been discredited.
Burleigh’s faith in the supposedly science-based CDC must be sorely tested as well, now that we are learning President Biden’s politicized CDC was doing the bidding of teachers unions to keep schools shut and pushing pathetically weak studies in support of mask mandates in schools. Left-wing fans of Burleigh’s anti-Trump, anti-capitalist bludgeons may be immune to reason, but judging by the political winds, reality is beginning to permeate the national mask.