I enjoy reading the Wall Street Journal. It is one of the few media sources that appears to attempt to present facts with little varnish. It’s editorial pages remain refreshingly rational. But every now and then twinges of wokeism and other journalistic ills creep into print. An example is this weekend’s edition, which included a front page article by the aforementioned Dr. Frieden in the Review section. The column is a paean to the virtues of all the dumb responses to the epidemic. Somehow the editors failed to note for readers that Dr. Frieden’s screed is full of errors and what can only be described as confabulations. The article incensed me enough that I have written a rejoinder to the Journal, which I doubt will be published.
Let me note at the start that Dr. Frieden has a sterling character, as demonstrated by the fact that he was convicted of groping a female family friend. A typical hypocritical progressive in other words. Dr. Frieden foolishly claims to be a public health expert, apparently not realizing that this is now a scorned appellation. His resume includes a long stint at the CDC, currently the most-disreputable agency in the federal government, a dubious and difficult achievement.
Dr. Freiden says three tactics “worked” to lessen the epidemic’s toll: masks; vaccines and lockdowns. As readers of the research summaries and the independent data analysis we provide know, it is flatly untrue that any of these tactics had any substantial impact on the epidemic’s course. We have been over the masking evidence repeatedly–there is simply no actual research that suggests masking lessens community transmission, a conclusion fortified by several highly credible reviews of the evidence, most recently by the Cochrane Institute. Dr. Freiden attempts to cite research supporting masking, all of which has been completely debunked. You have seen the chart for Minnesota showing no impact of masking in this state; in fact the greatest case waves occurred during mandatory masking. Masks may actually be incubators for virus survival, give a false sense of security and likely concentrate and funnel the virus inward and outward. In regard to masks, Dr. Frieden can only be described as a liar–he must know what the evidence says.
That anyone would defend business, school, health facility and other closures is simply inconceivable given the mountain of evidence that there is no relationship between the stringency of transmission suppression measures and actual case levels. The consensus has also come around to accepting that the public health price of these suppression measures in terms of drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, missed health care and other consequences is too high price for the ephemeral benefits. While Dr. Freiden acknowledges the toll these measures may have taken on the public, he minimizes it and exaggerates the supposed impact on cases. As with masks, Dr. Freiden is lying in regard to the impact of lockdowns. And it is lying when you write something knowing the opposite to be true.
The effectiveness of vaccines is likely more nuanced. They may have served to defer some cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but it was only a deferral as the impact of vaccination wears off quite quickly, even more so for boosters. The deferral had an additional benefit of pushing cases into the Omicron era, in which the virus generally induces less morbidity and mortality. But the effectiveness of the vaccines is substantially confounded by the presence in most Americans of immune responses prompted by infection. Most research does a poor job of separating out the effects of the two kinds of immune response. What has become clearer is that the response from a prior infection is almost certainly superior to that prompted by vaccination. At this point the likelihood of infection or serious diseases in a vaccinated but previously uninfected person is no different than the likelihood for a previously infected, but unvaccinated person. We see this clearly in the Minnesota statistics. I would not call Dr. Freiden a liar on this topic, but he is strongly exaggerating the benefits of the vaccines. They absolutely did not lower the risk of death by a factor of ten, as he says.
I believe it is extremely important for the public to have trust in government; be vigilant, but have trust. The loss of trust that is apparent in America today is not good. It breeds cynicism and apathy and it may lead citizens to ignore government advice that actually is appropriate in an area like public health. Dr. Freiden and his ilk have completely undermined that trust by lies, incomplete information, insistence on messaging rather than facts, not acknowledging uncertainty and demonizing those who question the lies, misinformation and messaging. The WSJ does trust in public health no favors when it publishes “experts” like Dr. Freiden without an accompanying rebuttal that does give the citizenry full and complete information, with all its uncertainty.