The CDC tells CBS to Talk to the Hand – Again

Back in October of 2009, I wrote a blog about a reporter at CBS, Sharyl Attkisson, who was trying to get information from the CDC about the pandemic.

She’s still waiting.

From CBS News, July 30, 2010 [hat-tip, Pixie]

About a year late, and long after swine flu has ceased to become an urgent national story, the federal government appears to be getting around to answering my “expedited” swine flu Freedom of Information request.

Sort of.

The short back-story to all of this is as follows: last fall I was made aware of the fact that Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had advised states to stop testing and tracking H1N1 or “swine flu.”

Sources indicated they felt this decision was hasty and ill-though-out, and could be designed to skew the public’s view of how widespread swine flu really was – or in this case, was not.

Getting statistics and answers would have been easy, if the CDC had provided the public documents I requested. The documents should have been provided quickly, as they were clearly public in nature, they were readily accessible (requiring no special search), and my request was very specific as to what I needed to see. When the CDC balked at providing the information and quit communicating with me, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the materials. Under FOI law, my request was entitled to expedited processing because–among other reasons– it about an issue of public safety, and an issue of widespread public interest.

At the time, CDC denied my request for expedited processing denying – laughably – that swine flu was of widespread interest to the public. That meant my request, dated August 27, 2009, went at the end of a long, mysterious cue where it might be fulfilled in weeks, months… or someday.

[snip]

… the slowly-grinding government FOI wheels have been turning for nearly a year, and I finally received a letter of response from the government. The letter is dated July 15, 2010, approximately eleven months after my request. It’s from Health and Human Services (HHS). It states that it has a certain document responsive to my FOI request. The letter says HHS will try really hard to provide the document soon, but that the folks there are very busy so it may take awhile. It says that if I want expedited processing – something I had already applied for a year ago – I should let them know. A phone number was provided in case I had any questions.

Of course the investigative report I was working on is long over, as the bureaucrats must have known it would be by now.

Nonetheless, I called the number provided on the HHS letter, and got an out-of-office recording. I told the recording on the other end that this FOI request was almost a year old, and I had requested expedited processing all along. I asked someone to call me back.

That was a few weeks ago.

Nobody called.

Why is the CDC hiding this information? Because it would reveal their incompetence at testing for influenza? Because it would reveal that fewer people were infected than they claimed but that more of those that were died?

Is this what Transparency and Open Government looks like?

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6 Comments

Filed under public health

6 responses to “The CDC tells CBS to Talk to the Hand – Again

  1. presumably this Sharyl (not Sheryl ?) Attkisson
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharyl_Attkisson

    site at CBS :
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/10/08/broadcasts/main524782.shtml
    (that page gave ome errors with my browser, presumably due to improper
    encoding of advertisements or better “failure” of my browser to display them
    as intended – but it didn’t crash, just displayed the errors)

    invite her to post and discuss here !
    I could, if you allow – but I would never pretend to be speaking for PFI 😉

  2. monotreme1000

    gsgs, you’re right about Ms. Attkisson’s name. Thanks. I’ve corrected it.

    The link works for me, so maybe it is your browser.

  3. ahh, I see, she has a blog and monotreme linked to it in the previous post.
    ame two errors there for me, many pictures,videos.

    I see 14 coments to that story ATM.

    I could maybe comment there but I didn’t yet finish to read their “terms of use”
    and I get interrupted by their error-messages.

    Also a forum is clearly better for discussion than a blog.

    Maybe she could write about the wrong Pcast-predictions which circulated at that time
    and might have contributed to the decision to file that request.
    PCAST , August 7, published August 24
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/PCAST_H1N1_Report.pdf
    Lipsich rowed back some weeks(?) later in an almost unnoticed interview
    See our discussion at PFI which almost led to my banning and closing
    my threads (e.g. about the New York wave) since I was “too” optimistic.
    I still can’t post new threads.

    Did Attkisson try to get the testing data from other countries ?
    At that time the Australian data came in. A pandemic is international,
    no need to concentrate on one country.

    Maybe she can write about
    CDC submitting sequences to GISAID instead of public genbank,
    why Mexico answers no emails, (press,officials,scientists)
    why there is still almost no (publishe) testing of swine in Mexico
    why the smoking pig got no attention in the press (including CDC)
    why papers are usually delayed >6 months upto 3 years
    why there was no vaccine data – apparantly they didn’t ask people with H1N1
    whether they were vaccinated
    etc.

    (I wanted to copy this to Attkisson by email, but couldn’t find the email-address)

  4. monotreme1000

    gsgs, it seems like you have a lot of questions for Ms. Attkisson. You might send her an email and ask her directly.

    I don’t think the “smoking pig” has been identified. I don’t think anyone else does either.

    I don’t know if Ms. Attkisson is anti-vaccine or not. However, even is she is, the correct way to deal with someone like that is to provide all the relevant data as quickly as possible. Stonewalling makes it look like you have something to hide.

  5. no email was given, so I contacted CBS through their webpage. She writes about many subjects,
    so she is probably not particularly interested in flu. The freedom-of-information request
    could have been about any subject, and not necessarily CDC.
    It was just coincidentally about flu.
    The smoking pig data is posted and searchable with google, no mistake was given.

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