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CNN’s Brian Stelter Mocks The CDC: ‘It Is So Sad But It’s True. The CDC Has Turned Into A Punch Line’

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: Brian Stelter attends The 15th Annual CNN Heroes: All-Star Tribute at American Museum of Natural History on December 12, 2021 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN. A Warner Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

CNN media reporter Brian Stelter slammed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during his broadcast of “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, saying that the organization has turned into a “punch line” over its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stelter specifically made the comments in reference to an interview that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had recently with NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie.

“All of this mixed messages or new messages has led to a meme on social media poking fun at the CDC’s advice, tweets like, CDC now recommends eating straight off the floor at Waffle House. The CDC now says it’s in fact okay to eat Tide Pods. The CDC says go ahead and get bangs,” Guthrie said. “You know, it’s amusing, people letting off steam, of course. But is there a larger credibility problem with your agency right now?”

“It is so sad but it’s true. The CDC has turned into a punch line,” Stelter said. “There’s a huge credibility crisis for the CDC … it just causes people, if they hear all these mixed messages and all this confusion, it’s all too complicated, they just move on and ignore it.”

WATCH:

TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA CNN:

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Now to the media and mental health. Pollsters in Suffolk University have found something that crosses all of America’s partisan lines. And that something is mental health stress.

Ninety-one percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans agree that there is a mental health crisis in the United States. Researcher David Paleologos says this new poll, quote, tells a story of despair felt by Americans who just don’t know when the madness of COVID will end. The madness of COVID.

Now, there’s a segment of Americans who tuned out the pandemic a while ago. They dropped the masks, they moved on, despite entreaties from public health officials. Some of them are unvaccinated and at high risk right now due to Omicron.

But I want to focus on the other segment of Americans, those who are vaccinated, who are paying attention to the pandemic, and are hearing about Omicron and school closures and testing troubles and all the rest. This moment in the pandemic is really complicated because a mostly mild variant is still bringing hospitals to the brink of capacity and care. And a lot of people are confused about what to do and about what to believe.

Now, many doctors are doing an amazing juggling act, given these circumstances. And yet, I think we’re also potentially seeing and hearing from doomsday doctors who push people toward even more fear, anxiety, and depression.

I’m not trying to call out anybody in particular. I think this is obviously really nuanced. But is there an undue amount of fear being spread, especially in those Twitter threads and Facebook posts, and in corners of cable TV where it feels like COVID zero is the only goal?

COVID zero, of course, the idea that you can completely eliminate COVID from the environment, which is an impossibility.

My next guest is a practicing internist in Washington. She’s been calling out other medical pros who potentially are fear-mongering. Her name is Dr. Lucy McBride, and she’s with me now.

Also here, CNN’s Oliver Darcy.

Thank you both for coming in.

Dr. McBride, doomsday doctors is an inflammatory term, I want to be careful about it. But I want to know what you’re seeing firsthand. You treat patients, they come in, they ask you about COVID.

What are you hearing? What are seeing personally?

DR. LUCY MCBRIDE, PRACTICING INTERNIST & HEALTH CARE EDUCATOR: So, as you just opened with, Brian, this is a parallel pandemic of mental health [in] crisis. You know, we are bathing in fear. People have been worried and panicked necessarily because of the threat of COVID-19, which is absolutely real and present.

That said, those of us in the medical profession, particularly those of us who are patient-facing, who help people every day understand their unique vulnerabilities for disease, whether it’s from COVID or cancer. We have an obligation to help people frame risk, to deliver fact-based nuanced information. Fear does harm. It only makes people afraid. It doesn’t affect people’s decisions.

So, when I’m on Twitter or right now with you, I’m trying to help people understand that, look, your risk for COVID is as different as someone else’s. And revving the emotional engines of people’s anxiety only does harm.

STELTER: What’s a specific example of that kind of fear, that panic porn that you’ve seen recently?

MCBRIDE: Well, there are a lot of doctors who are talking about, you know, what if your child ends up in the ICU, and then you die from the same COVID infection, and then you’re parentless?

That’s just, in my opinion, not helpful. Now, let me just say this — I don’t ascribe ill intent to these doctors. I think most physicians went into medicine to help people. I think a lot of physicians themselves are anxious, and themselves are trying to offset their own anxiety by broadcasting to a wider public the anxiety that’s in the air.

But if doctors and public health officials don’t check their own anxieties, their own fears, and take a moment to reflect on how they are messaging and how they are potentially doing harm by, again, sharing fear-based messaging, then we really, really should take a break, because, look, doctors are people, too. We’re seeing a mental health crisis among healthcare providers as well.

We are human, it’s normal to feel anxious, it’s normal to want to share our stress with others. But when it’s affecting people’s everyday behaviors and affecting the way they feel and their decisions. You know, fear isn’t motivating. Fear just makes people afraid.

For me to motivate someone to get a vaccine, to try to lose weight, to reduce the risk for COVID, for example, I don’t say, if you don’t lose weight you’re going to get COVID and die or if you don’t lose weight you’re going to have a heart attack or stroke. I try to help them with giving them knowledge, giving them tools, giving them information so that they can take that home with them and engage in productive, nuanced behaviors that help them with their unique risk.

STELTER: Right. Oliver, you’ve been writing about some of this in the RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter.

Here’s a big, overly broad question for you. Is the media at this point out of touch with the public about COVID?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I think it’s hard to argue that — you know, the media is a large group of people, but a lot of the media does seem, when I look at it and travel the country, to be very out of touch with people. I mean, if you travel the country, people are not really living in the same bubble that, it seems, that most of the media is messaging toward.

STELTER: Right.

DARCY: And so — and, so, I think this is an issue because if people are tuning out what’s going on in cable news, if we’re not messaging toward the general population, they’re just ignoring everything and living their lives, and we’re not really getting the information that they need to them.

STELTER: Here’s a great example, I think, of how to cover this moment in time. Here’s the “Today” show. Here’s Savannah Guthrie interviewing the CDC director … recognizing the CDC has turned into a punch line. It is so sad but it’s true. The CDC has turned into a punch line.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: All of this mixed messages or new messages has led to a meme on social media poking fun at the CDC’s advice, tweets like, CDC now recommends eating straight off the floor at Waffle House. The CDC now says it’s in fact okay to eat Tide Pods. The CDC says go ahead and get bangs.

You know, it’s amusing, people letting off steam, of course. But is there a larger credibility problem with your agency right now?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: And the answer is yes, there’s a huge credibility crisis for the CDC. And, Oliver, to your point, it just causes people, if they hear all these mixed messages and all this confusion, it’s all too complicated, they just move on and ignore it.

DARCY: That’s exactly right. We are supposed to be getting information, I think, to these people.

And, so, when we are messaging toward a very small group of people, maybe, who are taking the pandemic far more seriously than the average person, I think we’re not doing our job as effectively as we should be doing. And I think we need to generalize the message.

There are a lot of, for instance, stories ahead of Thanksgiving and the holidays saying — advising people to take all these precautions. It’s not that it’s bad to take those precautions, but it just felt like when I was reading it and talking to other people, nope, people are not reading these articles and doing every step in the playbook.

And we need to be maybe coming up with realistic solutions and advice to the general public when talking about COVID.

STELTER: Meet viewers where they are, meet readers where they are, and people are in a wide array of places right now when it comes to risk assessment.

Dr. McBride, just have a few seconds. The reality about learning to live with COVID, we have to focus on the living part.

MCBRIDE: We have to learn how to live with COVID, which is not equivalent to saying, let it rip, don’t protect the vulnerable. We absolutely need to do everything we can to protect the vulnerable.

But remember, Brian, vulnerability means many things, it can be a vulnerability to depression and isolation, it can also be a vulnerability to COVID-19.

STELTER: Right.

MCBRIDE: We need to be broad in our messaging and inclusive and honest.

STELTER: Dr. McBride, thank you.

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