WaPo covers for Democrats who cast doubts on US COVID vaccine development effort

On August 5, the Washington Post’s resident fact-checker, Glenn Kessler took a try at obfuscating incidents in which Democrat politicians peddled doubts about the coronavirus vaccines developed under President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed effort.

PolitiFact previously ran its own effort to downplay comments Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in which they expressed doubt about Operation Warp Speed.

In this latest case, the Washington Post focused on Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), giving him their worst fact-check rating of “four Pinnochios” for tweeting a montage of actual clips from Biden, Harris and Democrat New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, all of whom questioned the Operation Warp Speed effort.

 

Summary:

  • The Washington Posts “fact-check” is essentially a back and forth of them quoting Biden, Harris or Cuomo and then offering their own analysis on the quotes and whatever context they feel is relevant to negate the charge that “Democrats have a history of vaccine misinformation and not trusting science.”
  • Cuomo said of the vaccines on Sept 24, 2020, “I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion and I wouldn’t recommend to New Yorkers based on the federal government’s opinion.” The Washington Post, arguing that this is not an example of a Democrat sewing doubt about the vaccines, offers an analysis that Cuomo appointed his own panel to verify the safety of the vaccine and, after delaying the release of their results, they “mostly piggybacked” on an existing FDA review.
  • Cuomo said on Sept 25, 2020, “I don’t trust the president. And I don’t trust the FDA.” The Washington Post addresses this by claiming “Cuomo again is knocking Trump for appearing to interfere in the FDA’s approval process, accusing him of politicizing the process.” This is not a rebuttal to the fact that Cuomo sought to discredit the FDA itself for their involvement in Operation Warp Speed.
  • On Sept. 25, Cuomo again said “The FDA said they want to bring in outside observers as part of the process to provide comfort to the American people. Trump said he didn’t think that was necessary — as if he’s an expert on science and public health, and that he might overrule the FDA. So, the American people don’t trust the process. I don’t trust the process. This is a president who you know calls health officials and tells them what he wants done politically.” The Washington Post defends against criticism of this comment by Cuomo by stating Cuomo was reacting to a move by Trump to block the FDA from going through a third-party review process of the Operation Warp Speed vaccines. What the Washington Post does not mention is that Trump’s comments about overruling the FDA came in response to reporting, based on anonymous sources, that the FDA was planning on implementing an additional steps to its vaccine approval process that weren’t part of the original vaccine approval plan.
  • On Sept 2, 2020, Biden said “Look at what’s happened. An enormous pressure put on the CDC not to put out the detailed guidelines. Enormous pressure being put on the FDA to say the following protocol will have a giant impact on covid. All these things turn out not to be true, and when a president continues to mislead and lie. When we finally do, God willing, get a vaccine, who’s going to take the shot? Who’s going to take the shot? Are you going to be the first one to say sign me up? They now say it’s okay. I’m not being facetious.” The Washington Post, in defending this comment by Biden, by saying Biden made these comments after Trump “appeared to undermine” the CDC.
  • During the the vice presidential debate, Harris said, “If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.” While the Washington Post says “Harris clearly says she would take the vaccine if recommended by respected doctors like Fauci” and that she draws a “clear distinction with a politically motivated announcement by Trump” but in fact she did not make it clear whether a Trump recommendation would cancel out a recommendation by Fauci or other scientists and that interpretation remains an open possibility for listener of Harris’ full quote.
  • On vaccinations, Harris also said, “I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump. And it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his word for it. He wants us to inject bleach. I — no, I will not take his word.” Washington Post defends this comment by saying “Harris correctly notes that Trump was obsessed with releasing a vaccine before the election.” In this passage, Washington Post asserts it’s opinion that Trump’s was “obsessed” with getting out a vaccine and that this obsession was based purely on political expediency and not on saving lives. Interestingly enough, this “fact-checker” offered no fact-check to Harris’ claim that Trump “wants us to inject bleach” an action he never called for.
  • The Washington Post’s “four Pinnochio” rating against Scalise is not in line with its stated fact-checking methodology.

The Washington Post took a similar effort as PolitiFact did a week earlier, in attempting to obfuscate the many questions Democrat politicians raised about Operation Warp Speed prior to the release of its three COVID-19 vaccine products.

Candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made multiple statements presenting distrust in the vaccines developed through Operation Warp Speed, an initiative brought forth under President Donald Trump to rapidly develop COVID vaccines. Biden and Harris shared concerns the vaccines would be finished before the 2020 election, a development that could have provided political benefit to Trump as he sought reelection.

Biden and Harris both sought to get out ahead of Trump’s assurances that a vaccine would be ready in a relatively short order of time. In September, as Trump said vaccines would be ready in a matter of weeks, Biden said, “The idea that there’s going to be a vaccine and everything’s gonna be fine tomorrow – it’s just not rational.” In September, Biden also said, “I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump. And at this moment the American people can’t either.” By the time offered his remarks suggesting he would trust scientists but not Trump,  multiple U.S. scientists and health officials involved in the Operation Warp Speed effort had already said they expect the vaccines to be safe and effective and had discussed its distribution.  There wasn’t a present scenario where Trump’s involvement in the vaccine development was at odds with the endorsements of the scientists and health officials involved in its development.

During her vice presidential debate with Mike Pence, Harris said, “If Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it, absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.” It is unclear, if in a scenario where both Fauci and Trump endorsed a COVID-19 vaccine, Harris would have viewed Trump’s endorsement as having cancelled out Fauci’s. She simply said if Trump told Americans to take the vaccine “I’m not taking it.” Harris did not describe a scenario where those scientists and health officials who had already spoken in favor of Operation Warp Speed’s efforts would have retracted their endorsements while Trump continued to push his endorsement of the vaccines.

Between Biden and Harris, both individuals were suggesting Trump’s involvement in Operation Warp Speed, however tangential, could somehow be a variable undermining the overall credibility of the vaccines, in spite of the existing and (at that point) well-established involvement of scientists in the vaccine development process.

Biden’s comments don’t simply call into question Trump’s involvement in Operation Warp Speed, but the overall credibility of the FDA and the CDC.

Cuomo similarly called into question the validity of the FDA’s efforts to develop the vaccines. He said, “I don’t trust the president. And I don’t trust the FDA.”

The Washington Post defends Cuomo’s misgivings about the FDA based on the fact that Trump was threatening to overrule the FDa. What the Washington Post does not mention is that Trump’s comments about overruling the FDA came in response to reporting, based on anonymous sources, that the FDA was planning on implementing additional steps to its vaccine approval process that weren’t part of the original vaccine approval plan. So the contention here from the post is that Cuomo was right to question the FDA, based on the fact that Trump was opposed to an anonymously reported claim that the FDA was going to add a last-minute additional step before the vaccines could be released that was not part of the plan. Trump had followed the Operation Warp Speed process by the book up to that point and objected to a process that was not part of the already established vaccine-development plan.

The Washington Post also notes Cuomo “made a show of appointing his own panel of six scientists to review the vaccines” and that after Cuomo’s panel “mostly piggybacked” and assessed the vaccines to be safe, the state of New York fought to have those results released for months. What the Washington Post is admitting here is that Cuomo’s “show” of appointing his own review process for the vaccines essentially did nothing and, after the panel agreed with the FDA, Cuomo’s state fought the release of their results. The Washington Post is admitting Cuomo politicized the vaccine and then dragged his feet when his politicized vaccine verification process reached the same conclusion as the FDA.

After Harris was asked if she would take a vaccine before election day, she said, “I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump. And it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his word for it. He wants us to inject bleach. I — no, I will not take his word.”

Washington Post defends this comment by saying “Harris correctly notes that Trump was obsessed with releasing a vaccine before the election.” In this passage, the Washington Post asserts it’s opinion that Trump’s was “obsessed” with getting out a vaccine before election day. The Washington Post cannot read minds, yet it asserts to know that Trump was “obsessed” with releasing a vaccine and insinuates that such an obsession was based on political motives and not the potential to save lives. By the inverse property, if Trump was obsessed with releasing a vaccine before election day, would the Washington Post assert that Harris was obsessed with making sure a vaccine would not be available until after election day.

As an additional note, this “fact-checker” offered no fact-check to Harris’ claim that Trump “wants us to inject bleach” an action he never called for.

The bottom line is that Biden, Harris and Cuomo made comments that called into question Trump’s involvement in Operation Warp Speed, and the overall trustworthiness of the FDA and the CDC. Biden and Cuomo offered indications they distrusted the scientists tasked with validating the COVID-19 vaccines. Harris offered an ambiguous comment that she would accept a vaccine endorsed by scientists but not accept a vaccine endorsed by Trump.

All three of these figures now embrace the results of Operation Warp Speed, yet none of them have said their prior concerns about Trump’s involvement in the vaccine development were misplaced. They cast aspersions on the vaccine development process because of its affiliation with Trump and while they reap the benefits of a process Trump oversaw, the MetaFact Group could not find any instance in which they retracted those aspersions.

Despite the demonstrable doubt-casting by Biden, Harris and Cuomo, it’s Scalise who gets criticized by the fact-checker for providing their accurate quotes. Scalise gets the harshest Washington Post fact-check rating of four Pinnochios. Their claim is because Scalise leaves quotes out of context. The Washington Post’s decision to assign four Pinnochios is not in line with their own stated fact-checking methodology.

If sufficiently relevant context was missing, the Washington Post’s “one Pinnochio” describes “Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods.” If the Washington Post felt Scalise interpretation of the comments by Cuomo, Harris and Biden were truly misleading a “two Pinnochios” would more appropriately describe “Significant omissions and/or exaggerations.” It is not clear that even a “two Pinnochio” rating could apply as all three figures clearly did cast aspersions on the vaccine development and the FDA and CDC, in line with Scalise’ charge of them “not trusting science.” a Washington Post “four Pinnochio” rating is meant to be reserved for “Whoppers.” Scalise claim is not a “Whopper” as it provides video evidence to back up its claim and even with the expanded context, it is evident that the people he showed in his video did not trust the scientists on the subject of vaccines.

The Washington Post has obfuscated, ignored its own relevant context, passed up on a valid chance to fact-check a falsehood by Harris on the subject of injecting bleach, and ignored its own fact-checking methodology.

Similar Meta Fact-checks:

Biden questioned US COVID vaccines, and Harris said she wouldn’t take it if Trump said to – now PolitiFact is obscuring the video evidence

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