Right-wing media gloss over — or applaud — Trump removing hospital reporting task from CDC during pandemic

Administration assures public that data will be improved, but public health experts worry about sudden changeover during pandemic

The Trump administration rolled out an abrupt policy change in its response to the pandemic this week, telling hospitals to no longer report statistics on coronavirus hospitalizations and protective equipment to an existing database at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but to switch instead to a new system maintained by a private company for the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The CDC's old data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it's an inadequate system today,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo said in a statement to reporters on Wednesday, NPR reported. “The President's Coronavirus Task Force has urged improvements for months, but they just cannot keep up with this pandemic.”

However, public health experts also told NPR that the sudden change in reporting procedures could disrupt current tracking of the pandemic, even if there were some improvements to be gained. They also expressed confidence in the existing system and concerns about whether the new HHS database would be as transparent to the public.

During Wednesday night’s programming on Fox News, the main thrust of the coverage on this issue was to continue the demonization of the CDC and other public health experts, as well as to dismiss concerns about the policy change as mere Democratic complaining.

On the July 15 edition of Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, a brief notice of the policy change was given among other coronavirus-related headlines. “Critics say it's just the latest effort by the White House to undercut the agency, but President Trump doesn't see it that way,” correspondent Kristin Fisher said, followed by a brief video clip of Trump declaring, “Look, they’re all on the same team. We’re all on the same team.”

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Citation From the July 15, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier

On Fox’s The Ingraham Angle — the show that has been the single biggest COVID-19 misinformer out of the network’s vast array of sources for alternative facts — guest Phil Kerpen of the right-wing Committee to Unleash Prosperity praised this as a good move, calling the CDC “atrocious”:

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Citation From the July 15, 2020, edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle

LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): The hospitals now are required to directly report their data to HHS, not to CDC. How significant on a scale of one to 10?

PHIL KERPEN (COMMITTEE TO UNLEASH PROSPERITY): Well, we will have to see how well HHS does, but I give it at least a seven or eight because CDC has been atrocious. They've been so bad that most people are using a website from The Atlantic magazine to track national statistics instead of using the CDC website, which is pretty telling. And so I don't think they could be worse, let me put it that way, Laura.

INGRAHAM: Alright, Phil, great seeing you.

In the next hour, on Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream, the eponymous anchor brought up the story to Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) by way of raising Democratic criticism of the move. (Though even after brushing off Democratic outcry as an attempt to “jump to massive conclusions and politicize it,” Crenshaw admitted he wouldn’t mind getting an explanation for the “administrative change.”)

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Citation From the July 15, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream

SHANNON BREAM (ANCHOR): There are those who are now worried if it goes to HHS and not to the CDC, it won't be public, it won't be available for other people to crunch the data, other researchers to look at it. And, of course, the left is worried about, quote, the Trump administration taking control of this information.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweets this, “Health officials need trustworthy and transparent data to fight COVID-19. I'm concerned this is an attempt to politicize the federal response and cover up failures. @SecAzar must explain these changes.”

Do you need an explanation, congressman?

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): Perhaps. I mean, again, I don't have enough information about why they made that change. Of course, you can rely on Sen. Elizabeth Warren to jump to massive conclusions and politicize it herself.

But, you know, I'm certainly not averse to getting an explanation on why they made that — what seems like an administrative change.

On Thursday, CNBC received a comment from Caputo, who said that HHS will provide “more powerful insights” and that the data will be made available.

“Yes, HHS is committed to being transparent with the American public about the information it is collecting on the coronavirus,” he said. “Therefore, HHS has directed CDC to re-establish the coronavirus dashboards it withdrew from the public on Wednesday.”

And coming from another right-wing outlet, correspondent Chanel Rion of the far-right One America News Network asked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday whether the decision was motivated by “any concern whatsoever … regarding CDC’s possible manipulation of data?”

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Citation From the July 16, 2020, edition of Fox News’ The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino

In response, McEnany said the intent of the decision was to ensure that there was “daily data” given to HHS officials such as Dr. Deborah Birx, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and that there had been “some confusion in the press” on this story.

“What happened is we also have a second method of using this data and it’s the TeleTracker database, and this is an HHS system. … And as it turns out, this data ended up being more complete, more up to date with information,” McEnany said, assuring that the coronavirus data would still be “completely open source” and available to the CDC.