NY Times Scribe Gets Admonished by His Own Paper for Too Much Opinion on PBS

May 14th, 2020 12:22 PM

On Tuesday's Amanpour & Co. on PBS and CNN International, New York Times health and science reporter Donald McNeil Jr. insisted Centers for Disease Control boss James Redfield should just resign. Even the Times issued a statement saying that was too much opinion.

“We were in a headless-chicken phase, and yes, it’s the president’s fault, it is not China’s fault,” McNeil said. “You know, the head of the Chinese CDC was on the phone to Robert Redfield on January 1, again on January 8, and the two agencies were talking on January 19. The Chinese had a test on January 13; the Germans had a test on January 16. We fiddled around for two months, we had a test on March 5 and it didn’t work. We didn’t have 10,000 people tested until March 15.”

Then he said Redfield should resign. "So we lost two months there, and that’s because of incompetent leadership at the CDC, and I’m sorry to say it’s a great agency, but it’s incompetently led, and I think Dr. Redfield should resign.”

It’s a little weird that McNeil went on to say his own editors weren’t convinced this was a major health threat. So should they all resign?

In a statement to Joseph Wulfsohn at Fox News, the Times offered a mild rebuke: 

“In an interview with Christiane Amanpour today, Donald McNeil, Jr. went too far in expressing his personal views. His editors have discussed the issue with him to reiterate that his job is to report the facts and not to offer his own opinions. We are confident that his reporting on science and medicine for The Times has been scrupulously fair and accurate.”

The paper's guidelines state "Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times on its reporters expressing personal views." That's a bit loose, since plenty of opinion bubbles up in the "straight" news articles. 

McNeil went on to take more personal potshots at President Trump, pulling an Adam Schiff and misquoting him for satirical effect. 

DONALD MCNEIL, NEW YORK TIMES: Look, this is the same guy who said, "Inject yourself with disinfectant -- stick ultraviolet lights into your lungs." This is not somebody whose grasp of science is even third grade level. So the idea that he could be quoting epidemiological statistics and be expected to get them right is terrifyingly wrong. I mean,  our deaths per million are relatively high -- not as high as Sweden. For some reason, the far right wants to follow the Sweden model. If they look at the deaths per million, Sweden is doing worse than we are...

He then praised Germany's testing levels and argued that much more testing is needed in the U.S. Amanpour followed up by exaggerating how badly the U.S. has performed compared to other countries:

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: There's been quite a lot of very worrying reporting about what Covid has done to the American health care system. I said that it spends the most of any country on health care, and yet … there are rural hospitals completely unable to cope -- completely broke and can't deal with what's going on. And, as you say, if there's another wave, it could just break the system. Again, just for our viewers, how can it be that the country that spends -- well, you make the distinctions because people don't understand how -- the country that spends the most on health care is doing the worst and is the epicenter of deaths and infections right now.

In fact, the total per capita numbers of confirmed deaths is generally higher in Europe than in the U.S. As of May 13, the total death rates are substantially higher in Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium; and somewhat higher in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

In the UK, the number currently stands at 48.8 while it is 40.4 in France, in contrast with the U.S. where the rate stands at 25.8 per 100,000.

In Switzerland, the per capita rate is slightly less than in the U.S. while rates are much lower in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and Portugal. In Germany, the number notably is 9.4.

McNeil responded by arguing that the U.S. provides good health care but that government agencies that are charge of preventing epidemics had failed.