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Et Tu New York Times?

It probably won’t come as a surprise that I’m a regular reader of the New York Times. Some conservatives believe it leans a touch too far to the liberal side. Perhaps it does. Some of our faux-patriots believe it’s a communist rag, but most members of that set don’t read the Times (or much else for that matter). I find it generally balanced, well researched and well written. But even the New York Times isn’t immune from my contempt for irresponsible reporting.

The headline on an article in this morning’s edition read, “Shortage of Vaccine Poses Political Test for Obama”. Oh, come on. I expect better from the Times.

President Harry Truman once proclaimed, “The buck stops here,” but let’s be realistic. The President of the United States is not personally responsible for every pissy little happening in a society of 300 million people. How did the drug manufacturer’s inability or unwillingness to meet deadlines they’d given to government officials get to be Obama’s problem?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg claimed in her article that the vaccine shortage, “is creating a very public test of Mr. Obama’s confidence.” In her next line she blames the shortage on “delays in the manufacturing process.” Where did the Times dig up Ms. Stolberg? Was she a former media contact for some tea-party convivium? Let me help Ms. Stolberg with a couple of points.

The “shortage” of vaccine is the result of a difference between the amount that has been delivered and the amount that had previously been predicted by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. So somehow, in the eyes of some, President Obama is personally responsible because someone in his administration took the estimates provided by the manufacturers in July and trusted them. Doesn’t this strike you as some rather convoluted logic?

Is Ms. Stolberg suggesting that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is supposed to consult with the manufacturers of drugs, get the opinions of their experts and arbitrarily change them? That’s why she asked the experts in the first place. They’re supposed to be the ones with the answers to these questions; that’s why they’re the ones making the drugs. I wouldn’t personally feel very comfortable taking the vaccine if I knew Kathleen Sebelius had actually been cooking up the stuff in her bathroom lab.

 To suggest Sebelius shouldn’t rely on the advice of the drug company experts implies either they’re lying to her or they are incompetent. Admittedly, the Obama administration’s fan clubs are not generally overloaded with drug company executives, but to suggest these guys would stoop to creating an artificial shortage of flu vaccine to embarrass President Obama seems beyond the radar of even the most obsessive conspiracy hound. It’s not out of the question, but come on Dr. Strangelove; I don’t think they’re smart enough to be that devious.

That leaves the theory that the drug companies are grossly incompetent. There’s no question; the drug companies like any other major organization have their fair share of incompents running loose in their halls. But I can’t envision a band of wild-eyed Ph.D.s sitting in a lunchroom at Pfizer, beakers boiling, sipping Jolt Cola from Erlenmeyer flasks, ham sandwich in one hand calling out, “OK, Bufford, give me a random number between one and 150 million.” I’ve been there, done that. (OK, I was drinking coffee from a beaker, not an Erlenmeyer flask.) They’re going to come up with their best “estimate” of production capabilities.

The drug companies produced estimates and even though I wasn’t personally present when Sebelius got the news, I can guarantee you that sometime during the process, some scientist/engineer used the phrase, “If all goes well . . .”, we can produce this amount of vaccine. Obviously, all didn’t go well.

In defense of the drug companies, they are trying to produce large quantities of something they have never produced in the past. Unexpected process bottlenecks need to be removed. Equipment breaks down. Yields are suboptimal. Processes need to be tweaked and optimized. As our friend Forest Gump said, “It happens.”

The experts gave Secretary Sebelius their best estimates and they became the target for production. Some irresponsible reporter converted “estimate” into “promise” and now a President who’s busy off-loading fallen soldiers from a cargo plane is somehow personally responsible for it. Get real.

With all due respects Ms. Stolberg, here’s the story and the whole story. “Deliveries of the H1N1 flu vaccine are running behind what had been hoped. Scientists and engineers are working feverishly to increase production levels. The Department of Health and Human Services is monitoring progress.” End of story.

On the other hand Ms. Stolberg, “if” you do a little more work and discover proof that the drug companies at the urging of the Republican National Committee, a.k.a., FOX News in the form of Karl Rove, have conspired to induce a Swine Flu pandemic in order to improve Republican congressional candidate’s chances of winning mid-term elections, then you’ve got a story. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. That’s not going to happen because (1) even those creeps aren’t that diabolically stupid and (2) no one other than FOX would report such a thing and they’d be in the middle of it.

No, this time, it’s just another case of a reporter getting a little carried away when stretching a non-story into an extravaganza and a publisher unable to resist the urge for a little extra publicity. Time blew this one. Shame on you Ms. Stolberg.

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