ABC's Consistent on Flu Threats: Blame the Republicans

[UPDATED: ABC studied the GDP numbers and found science funding rose under Reagan. See here.]

When bird flu was the threat a few years ago, ABC blamed the Bush administration for being too late. Now when swine flu is the subject of scary headlines, ABC has begun by letting President Obama blame the Bush administration – and Republicans back to Reagan. From Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller on their Political Punch blog:

President Obama’s remarks – which were previously scheduled before the outbreak of the swine flu – focused on the necessary investments into science and research, and faulted not only the Bush administration for the plunging levels of science funding as a portion of the GDP, but farther back to the Reagan years as well.

"Federal funding in the physical sciences as a portion of our gross domestic product has fallen by nearly half over the past quarter century. Time and again we’ve allowed the research and experimentation tax credit, which helps businesses grow and innovate, to lapse…. And we have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas."

Obama promised new investment into research and development by both public and private investments, calling for the US to surpass its record investment in 1964 at the height of the space race.

"I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development," President Obama said.

Rewind back to 2005, when ABC's Brian Ross suggested that bird flu could kill a billion people, and experts found Bush was too late, and a Katrina-like disaster would be on his hands again. His story began in panicked terms:

It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities, and there is not enough medicine to fight it. It is called the avian flu.

This week, the U.S. government agreed to stockpile $100 million worth of a still-experimental vaccine, while at the United Nations Summit in New York, both the head of the U.N. World Health Organization and President Bush warned of the virus' deadly potential.

"We must also remain on the offensive against new threats to public health, such as the Avian influenza," Bush said in his speech to world leaders. "If left unchallenged, the virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century."

According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, Bush's call to remain on the offensive has come too late.

"If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, and it hit the United States and the world, because it would be everywhere at once, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine," he warns.

Already, officials in London are quietly looking for extra morgue space to house the victims of the H5N1 virus, a never-before-seen strain of flu. Scientists say this virus could pose a far greater threat than smallpox, AIDS or anthrax.

"Right now in human beings, it kills 55 percent of the people it infects," says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. "That makes it the most lethal flu we know of that has ever been on planet Earth affecting human beings."

Ross's article never mentioned that Redlener is a liberal activist who worked on Hillary Clinton's health-care task force. Then came the mandatory references to how the Bush administration failed the citizens of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina:

Redlener, who is stationed at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, has been working with New York City officials to get ready for the deadly epidemic.

"The city would look like a science fiction movie," according to him. "It's extremely possible we'd have to quarantine hospitals. We'd have to quarantine sections of the city."

"I could imagine that you could look at Grand Central Station and not see much of anybody wandering around at all," Garrett agrees. "People would be afraid to take the subways, because who wants to be in an enclosed air space with a whole lot of strangers, never knowing which ones are carrying the flu?"

As for the hospitals, there would be scenes like the ones this past month in the stadiums of New Orleans and Houston after Hurricane Katrina.

"There wouldn't be equipment and personnel to staff them adequately that you could really call them a hospital," Garrett predicts. "You might more or less call them warehouses for the ailing."

And, as happened in New Orleans, there would be no place for the dead.

"If you look at the expected number of deaths that could occur in cities across the United States, we are wholly unprepared to process those bodies in a dignified and respectful way," asserts Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "We will run out of caskets literally within days."

The prospects have become so bleak that in planning meetings held in New York City, veteran emergency responders have walked away.

"They just don't know how we're going to get through," says Osterholm of those responders. "If we have a repeat of the 1918 life experience, I can't imagine anything to be closer to a living hell than that experience of 12 to 24 months of pandemic influenza."

At what point does ABC News have to apologize when they blow up a threat like this that utterly fails to materialize? Sentences like this begin to look ridiculous:

The draft report of the federal government's emergency plan, obtained and examined by ABC News' "Primetime," predicts as many as 200,000 Americans will die within a few months. This is considered a conservative estimate.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis