Tucker And Laura Lying That The CDC Director Lied And Really Nobody's Died Of COVID At All Is LIECEPTION.
Some careless editing of an interview with Rochelle Walensky that aired on ABC News's "Good Morning America" Friday has led a whole bunch of rightwing media to out and out lie about what Walensky was getting at. Monday, well after Fox News had pointed out that ABC's edits — made for time, not to mislead — had nonetheless distorted what Walensky meant, both Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham went right ahead and repeated the bullshit claims that had been going around rightwing media.
Maybe Carlson and Ingraham decided that you just can't trust Fox News, and went with the juicier version that fit their COVID-denial worldview.
Truth Sandwich Time!
So let's Truth Sandwich this before we get into the bullshit version, shall we? In the GMA interview, Walensky was talking up a just-released CDC study of 1.2 million vaccinated Americans that showed pretty impressive results for how well the vaccines work to prevent serious illness and deaths. Out of those 1.2 million folks who were vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021, only 0.015 percent came down with serious COVID-19, and only 0.0033 percent died from the disease. That's only 36 deaths out of 1.2 million vaccinated people, a really impressive result.
Here's the full clip, which ABC News released Monday night. We've cued it up to Walensky's comments on the study, in reply to a question from anchor Cecelia Vega:
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 .0015 percent of the people who are — received their primary series, and death in .003 percent of those people.
The overwhelming number of death, over 75 percent, 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.
So, good study! Only 36 people died out of 1.2 million, and she really would have done well to state the number, not only the percentages, especially in her discussion of the number of those — 28 — who had "at least four comorbidities."
Edited For Time
When GMA aired the interview, the introductory remarks about this being a study of 1.2 million vaccinated Americans got cut for time, and it came out sounding like Walensky was saying that 75 percent of all COVID deaths in the country were among people with multiple medical issues.
In the context of the study, "really encouraging news" and "we're really encouraged by these results" clearly refer to the very low serious illness and death rates among the vaccinated, so everyone should get vaccinated, please.
Shorn of that context, the edited clip made Walensky sound like a ghoul, as if it were "really encouraging news" that the pandemic is mostly killing people with at least four serious medical conditions. That led to understandable outrage among many folks with disabilities, to whom it sounded like Walensky was saying she sure was glad that the people dying were of negligible value to the world.
The comment that "these are people who were unwell to begin with" reinforced the impression that she was saying people with multiple medical issues are disposable. She could have framed the data more clearly, noting that people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable because the vaccines won't work as well for them — although Crom knows that might have ended up getting snipped anyway — and she shouldn't have said "encouraging" anywhere near who it is who's doing the dying.
For the little good it might do, Walensky tweeted on Sunday that the CDC is absolutely committed to protecting people with comorbidities from COVID, but didn't point out that her interview had been edited to remove the information about how the vaccines were already helping to do that.
We must protect people with comorbidities from severe #COVID19. I went into medicine \u2013 HIV specifically \u2013 and public health to protect our most at-risk. CDC is taking steps to protect those at highest risk, incl. those w/ chronic health conditions, disabilities & older adults.— Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH) 1641772496
We must protect people with comorbidities from severe #COVID19. I went into medicine – HIV specifically – and public health to protect our most at-risk. CDC is taking steps to protect those at highest risk, incl. those w/ chronic health conditions, disabilities & older adults.
Into The Wingnuttosphere
Rightwing media immediately ran with the misleading claim that Walensky had proven that they were right all along, and that Walensky had "vindicated" their creepy eugenics-y claims that COVID was no big deal, since it killed only the old and vulnerable. As the Daily Beast details, the Right had a field day falsely claiming that they'd been right all along, and look, here's the CDC director "admitting" it.
Conservative radio host Clay Travis, who has long downplayed the severity of the pandemic, kicked off the fake news feeding frenzy by posting the video in a viral tweet, which has been retweeted nearly 20,000 times. Eventually, the Republican National Committee and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined in and shared the clip on social media. (Cruz has since deleted his tweet.)
The Stupidest Website on the Internet, Gateway Pundit, went even further (Internet Archive link), claiming that Walensky had confirmed the absolutely bullshit claim that all but six percent of deaths attributed to COVID were really due to comorbidities listed in death reports — a truly impressive distortion of a distortion since Walensky absolutely didn't say that the 36 deaths out of 1.2 million vaccinated people had been due to anything other than COVID.
The Antivaxxer Enemy Of My Liberal Enemies Is Still Full Of Shit
As the misinformation was being spread in rightwing media, at least one conservablogger managed to figure out that Walensky was actually talking about the small number of deaths in the study, not about COVID deaths in general. At Hot Air — not generally where we go to get fact checks, but good for them for getting it right — pseudonymous blogger "Allahpundit" on Monday afternoon explained that the clip already looked fishy, since it was "suspiciously shorn of context," and went on to provide that context, noting that of course the edited clip went viral on the Right, since it appeared to confirm suspicions that "Only the very, very sick are dying from COVID. It’s all been a scam."
The blog noted that the CDC had released the study on Friday, the same day the interview aired, and emphasized that Walensky was "making the opposite of the point anti-vaxxers think she’s making here," because she was talking about the small number of deaths out of 1.2 million vaccinated people. After quoting the study's findings at length, "Allahpundit," clearly no fan of antivaxxers, exclaimed,
Out of 1.2 million vaccinated people, just 36 died. That’s .003 percent, a phenomenal survival rate. Of those 36, slightly more than three-quarters had four comorbidities. Which is to say, even if you have three comorbidities, getting vaxxed all but guarantees that you won’t die if you’re infected.
Walensky was celebrating how wildly successful the vaccines have been at saving lives.
Fox News also debunked the idea that Walensky was talking about all COVID deaths Monday afternoon, in a web article noting that Walensky had in fact been talking about the success of the vaccines.
Carlson And Ingraham Spread The Lie Nationally
By Monday afternoon, the full context of Walensky's comments had been reported, by Fox News even, and ABC News had posted the full clip to YouTube by 6 p.m. Eastern, a good two hours before Tucker Carlson's Smile Time Scare Old People Hour. Nonetheless, because there's no such thing as facts, Carlson and Laura Ingraham both repeated the misinformation on their primetime shows, so Fox News viewers could have their anti-vax biases confirmed too.
Carlson, over a chyron reading "CDC HAS BEEN MISREPORTING SINCE THE BEGINNING" (again, no it hasn't), fumed that "Now, over a year later, with Trump safely out of office, the CDC is publicly acknowledging: Yeah, they lied." Again, nothing of the sort; the CDC has been warning from the very outset of the pandemic that people with a variety of medical conditions are more at risk from the virus, but that COVID was the cause of those folks' deaths.
Ingraham, two hours later, repeated the lies herself, insisting that the edited comments showed Walensky "admitting" that COVID is harmless except to people who don't need to stay alive anyway:
“Walensky was forced to make two embarrassing admissions over the weekend, first on the question of who is really dying from COVID,” Ingraham said before airing the viral snippet.
"Again, we were talking about this nearly two years ago,” the Fox host added, airing another clip of a guest of hers from 2020 saying only those with comorbidities were getting “seriously ill.”
Fox hasn't issued retractions, but Tuesday afternoon, the Daily Beast notes, "serious news" anchor Bret Bair (who has his own, less flamboyant history of downplaying COVID) did at least clarify that Walensky's comment was about vaccinated people, although he certainly didn't mention Carlson or Ingraham's misinformation, and neglected to use the real statistics showing how rare deaths and serious illness are among the vaccinated. He continued:
The soundbite was from prior, she was talking about vaccinated people and she had those stats. So, listen. We have to get the numbers right, we have to be able to say what it is.
So now everything's clear, hooray! There's no way the misinformation will now become Gospel truth in wingnutland after that clarification.
[Daily Beast / WaPo / CDC / Fox News]
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.