Daily Mail hypocrisy in slamming Swine Flu ‘scare machine’


4:26 pm - January 12th 2010

by Claude Carpentieri    


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Six months ago Britain’s tabloids were tolling the bell of a looming Armageddon.

The Daily Mail headlines ranged from IS SWINE FLU ALREADY HERE?; and SWINE FLU: IT’S GETTING SERIOUS, to SWINE FLU NOW THE BATTLE TO CONTAIN IT, and KILLER FLU IS HERE.

And that’s without counting the paper’s first page warnings that “65,000 could die [and] one in three could get infected”, printed in the 7 July 2009 edition.

So you will excuse us if we laughed out loud this morning when the same paper published what is already on course as the most ridiculous article of 2010, a faux-outraged piece by Christopher Booker that states: After this awful fiasco over swine flu, we should never believe the State scare machine again!

Booker’s piece follows yesterday’s report by Fiona McRae: The ‘false’ pandemic: Drug firms cashed in on scare over swine flu, a reference to the recent claims by Wolfgang Wodarg, health chief at the Council of Europe, who recently branded the H1N1 panic as “one of the greatest scandals of the century”.

Wodarg pointed out that too many things don’t add up. From the World Health Organisation changing the definition of ‘pandemic’ in order to include the H1N1, to the fact itself that the so-called “swine flu” affected infinitely less people than any other pandemic in the past or even seasonal flu, with fatality rates “considerably less lethal than feared“.

Just to give you an idea, the infamous pandemic of 1918 affected 500 million people, that is 33 per cent of the world’s population, whereas the so-called “swine flu” or (“killer flu” to quote the Express) affected an estimated 600,000 people worldwide with a death rate of 0.03%.

In short, the Daily Mail has radically changed its tune. From equating a sore throat with the grim reaper all the way to Mr Wodarg’s views – now that’s quite a Road to Damascus.

So when Christopher Booker concludes his article by saying that “misreadings of the scientific evidence […] can eventually make all of us look very silly indeed”, he should speak for himself and his mates at the Daily Mail. And then, perhaps, look up the word “ridicule” in the dictionary.

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Claude is a regular contributor, and blogs more regularly at: Hagley Road to Ladywood
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Reader comments


I’m not saying that the Daily _Mail_ didn’t also engage in alarmism over H1N1, but I don’t think that pictures of the Daily _Express_ front page are particularly convincing proof of this.

It’s there because Christopher Booker is a global warming denialist and this feeds nicely into his narrative that governments are always scare-mongering about things we should not worry about.

3. John Meredith

“So when Christopher Booker concludes his article by saying that “misreadings of the scientific evidence […] can eventually make all of us look very silly indeed”, he should speak for himself and his mates at the Daily Mail. ”

Not really. Booker was never a swine flu scare monger and has written copiously and at book length about the mechanisms of mass panics including bird flu, the Y2K virus, mad cow, and (perhaps a little more controversially) global warming. And it is beginning too look like he is right about AGW too, even if the Daily Mail says he is.

Yes there’s a serious point to be made somewhere about government/vested interest scaremongering, which has been lost because preaching to the choir about the Daily Fail is so much more important.

And, yes, I have no doubt that the Mail would have been complaining about lack of supplies or whatever had the situation gotten bad…

So a paper repeated government warnings about a disease, presumably in good faith (the government is meant to know).

In light of the Goverment warnings of disaster not coming to pass, a reporter discovers that drug companies have done well out of the government, and finds quotes that indicate they may be manipulating the WHO.

A columnist (not the editorial please note) then criticises the government’s actions, in hindsight pretty correctly, but also apparently consistently with his own statements.

Seems like normal journalism to me.

Unless newspapers are only meant to publish ideas that agree with them (there goes Comment is Free then) this is a ridiculous argument. There is plenty wrong with the Mail, but actually doing journalism and comment is not a problem.

So a paper repeated government warnings about a disease, presumably in good faith (the government is meant to know).

No, it actually exaggerated them. The govt was constantly trying to downplay paranoia.

#1 – have the links sorted now.

I don’t see the problem. The “hypocrasy” is not limited to the DM. Channel 4 did a fairly length piece on this in their main news last night the bones of which were

Drug companies put pressure on (euro quango whose name I can’t remember) to effectively lower the bar on what could be classified as a pandemic

Said euro quango caved in, meaning that swine flu which didn’t previously have a high enough risk to qualify as a pandemic, now did qualify as a pandemic

EU governments then spent bilions on vaccinations that were of dubious efficacy, had a very low take up and which they are now trying to sell back to big pharma.

Big pharma has made a fortune out of european taxpayers for no tangible benefit, in most peoples language that’s er, news.

You cannot blame our government completely (they are bound by the EU) but the way it was done here – effectively bypassing GPs, national leaflet drops and advertising campaigns have all the hallmarks of big government opportunism (look, we can even save you from the plague comrades).

8. the a&e charge nurse

He hee, Claude, nice post – it certainly had me chuckling about the Fails volte face.

Is there no new depth that this, aherm, ‘newspaper’, is not prepared to plumb?

9. the a&e charge nurse

Incidentally, I see the former Chief Medical Officer, Liam Donaldson resigned without receiving a gong (from NuLab) despite his prominent role in the Swine Flu debacle.

Some have suggested Donaldson was an essential conduit for big pharma and their near limitless, and lucrative supply of tamiflu and swine flu vaccinations.

“vaccinations that were of dubious efficacy”

Nice to see you joining the anti-vaccine brigade. Perhaps it would be more helpful for us if you could specify the bits of science you actually do think are correct.

@10 I love it when lefties try and “do” science

a) The number of people projected to die as a result of swine flu was only slightly higher than from seasonal flu

b) The efficacy of the vaccine is unproved in the sense that it offers only a slightly higher chance of avoiding chronic complications in those who already have underlying health issues

c) As the father of a 3 year old, who has no underlying helath complications I felt that the vaccine was unncesary (all vaccines carry risk) because the risk of serious illness/death from swine flu is for him, remote (far smaller, for example than the risk of him being hit by a car)

d) If the vaccination programme really did have “the full support of doctors” (as claimed on the letter sent to us as carers) then why was the letter from a quango rather than my doctor, and why would the vaccination not be given at the doctors surgery, with any opportunity to talk through the vaccination with him/her ?

e) Finally, why do so many (presumably better informed than me) blogging doctors not support it?

If you are one of the growing number of people in this country prepared to swallow anything because the government claim it is based on “scientific advice” (although look what happens to scientists when the govt dont like the policy implications of the science) then that’s your problem, don’t assume we are all as docile, dependent and infantalised as you

12. the a&e charge nurse

[10] “Nice to see you joining the anti-vaccine brigade”.

Asking questions about efficacy is NOT the same as an anti-vaccination stance.

H1N1 is a new virus.

So how could a vaccine be developed, and tested with absolute reliability in such a short space of time – the short answer is, it can’t
http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2009/10/30/tom-nolan-on-what-every-doctor-should-know-about-the-swine-flu-vaccine/

Always fascinating and priceless to watch the little trolls come running to defend the Daily Mail.

I am still waiting for Melanie Philips to apologise for the increase in measles after her hysterical campaign against vaccination. But of course we all now that the Mail practices power without responsibility.

14. Shatterface

‘So how could a vaccine be developed, and tested with absolute reliability in such a short space of time – the short answer is, it can’t’

You haven’t seen The Andromeda Strain then?

They have underground bunkers built for that purpose.

“@10 I love it when lefties try and “do” science”

No one is more anti science than the Anglo Right wing. That is why they are always pushing Jaysus as the solution to all your problems.

16. the a&e charge nurse

I see the Scott brothers have updated the franchise.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEjUfeG0yrA

Much sexier than Pork-flu by the look of it?

That is why they are always pushing Jaysus as the solution to all your problems.

heh.

is Sally real?

lefties…science…Lysenko anyone?

Christopher Booker is an idiot. He also doubts the effects of asbestos.

I remember fondly reading his EU Diary in the Sunday Telegraph a few years ago, bemoaning the anti-pollution measures forced on our British companies by EU bureaucrats. These would be the anti-pollution measures that were effectively copied and pasted directly from British Codes, which I’d recently been studying and so knew quite a lot about.

I love it when lefties try and “do” science

I know. Bloody Einstein – what an idiot.

21. Luis Enrique
22. diogenes1960

not many lefties there, luis….

We’ve seen Matt Munro’s ridiculous attempts to justify his belief that lefties can’t do science a priori before. No amount of evidence will convince him otherwise.

And whoever threw out Lysenko deserves some sort of award for “most obscure put down.”

I mean there’s no scientists with odd rightwing views to be embarrassed about are there? Or rightwingers with odd views of science (And no, this argument can’t be solved by just naming alternating right then left winf scientists).

“The govt was constantly trying to downplay paranoia.”

Indeed, by setting up a Pandemic website, spending millions on prime time adverts telling us to catch our sneezes in a hanky, and pushing out posters to most workplaces which are still up. Do a search on COI for swine flu, downplaying it my arse.

25. FlyingRodent

…setting up a Pandemic website, spending millions on prime time adverts telling us to catch our sneezes in a hanky, and pushing out posters to most workplaces which are still up.

Imagine, a publicity campaign urging the public to take the only anti-flu measures possible, i.e. sneezing into hankies and washing their hands regularly! The fiends!

Next they’ll be urging people to use condoms in a malicious effort to spark national hysteria over herpes. When will the madness end?

@FlyingRodent nice straw man

28. FlyingRodent

nice straw man

I thought of it as more of a light-hearted, humorous comparison exposing the blunt doziness at the heart of your point, but I’m never one to refuse praise.

29. the a&e charge nurse

[24] ahh, if only the retrospectoscope could be employed for all public health matters.
Consider the background – H1N1 was a novel virus so there was no established pattern of infection to base health planning on (that would not be subject to criticism for either doing too much or too little).

The virus seemed to have a significant mortality rate (if we look at the first few weeks in Mexico City) and outbreaks on several continents where established in a very short space of time (remember the deaths that soon occurred in Scotland).

Epidemiologists have been predicting that it is only a matter of time before the next great flu pandemic arrives (resulting in mass fatalities) – a new, and in some cases lethal virus, virtually guaranteed a doomsday scenario.

In essnce, the tabloids had several exciting ingredients to manipulate (which was a key element in Claude’s post) and needless to say the Fail’s churnalists cannot be accused of failing to exploit public fears about an unquantifiable health threat (because insufficient data existed to make any reliable predictions, at least to begin with).

The subsequent volte face by the Fail without any reference to their sustained record of scare mongering is sadly par for the course.

Yes, the government pandered to the worried well but given the drive toward to greater consumerism in the health market I anticipate that this group will continue to represent a powerful lobby – after all, they have Dr Google on their side, so why should they listen to paternalistic doctors?

30. Col. Richard Hindrance (Mrs), VC, DSO and Bar, Buffet, Dancing 'til late

Oi, Flying Rodent – when are you going to be arsed to write a new post for t’Hammer and ‘Anvil? I mean, really, come on now.

It appears that some people have become so desparate they’ve been reduced to writing imbecilic troll posts on LibCon about race, immigration, global warming and now swine flu in the hope that you’ll respond.

@ 20 Larry – are you sure Einstein was a lefty ? It seems unlikely….

Sally – “I am still waiting for Melanie Philips to apologise for the increase in measles after her hysterical campaign against vaccination. But of course we all now that the Mail practices power without responsibility.”

Indeed, and I’m still waiting for his tonyness to admit that he didn’t give his kids the combined MMR vaccine (which was the offficial government advice at the time) but paid privately to have them done separately – well actually I’m not but it makes the point.
I’m not arguing that the vaccine shouldn’t have been avaiable, I’m arguing that government were manipulated into paying for what was effectively a drug company sales push.

“Christopher Booker is an idiot. He also doubts the effects of asbestos.”

Erm, actually, no, he doesn’t. He makes the distinction between brown and blue asbestos (horrible, truly vile stuff that does kill) and white asbestos (entirely different chemical which might have minor side effects but is certainly nowhere near the blue and brown stuff).

Booker’s career, right from being first editor of Private Eye (and contributor to it all these years), has always had a strand of revealing the hysterics that groupthink sometimes leads to.

Sometimes he gets it right (asbestos, swine flu) sometimes he veers off (climate change for example).

@ Matt Monro,
“@ 20 Larry – are you sure Einstein was a lefty ? It seems unlikely….”

Well, I’m not sure what “lefty” means (anyone who disagrees with you), but…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstein#Politics

Sally

I am still waiting for Melanie Philips to apologise for the increase in measles after her hysterical campaign against vaccination.

Why should she? She warned of the dangers of MMR. She never suggested kids shouldn’t have the single vaccine, did she? It was the Labour government that cynically denied poor parents access to the single vaccine and created a situation where the only those who could afford to pay privately could get it.

Fine post, some God awful gnaw your hand off idiotic comments and some nice put-downs.

37. the a&e charge nurse

[35] oh, it’s just too tedious to debunk the single vaccine argument again.

For example;
“Parents should undoubtedly be allowed reasonable choice where there are comparable options. This is not the case with MMR vaccine. The experience from Japan has shown that a vaccination programme based on single measles and rubella vaccines results in a dramatic resurgence of disease. This resurgence results from the fact that if a child requires six vaccination visits to the doctor rather than just two, a larger proportion will inevitably end up not being vaccinated fully. Not only are the unvaccinated children at risk but also those that they come into contact with. This means those who are too young to be vaccinated, those who cannot be vaccinated because their immune system is not strong enough and, in the case of rubella infection, the unborn child of an unprotected mother. The key point is that there is no merit in offering a choice which is inferior to MMR vaccine”.
And that’s leaving aside the pain associated with multiple injections, or increased risk of complications at the injection site (dry abscess/cellulitis, etc).

By the way
“No country in the world recommends that MMR vaccine is divided into three separate injections. No country in Europe recommends that parents be given the choice of either the combined MMR vaccine or the three vaccines separately”.
http://www.thpc.scot.nhs.uk/Health_Protection/MMR/mythsand.htm#MYTHS%20and%20RUMOURS

Blaming NuLab for a concept rejected by the international scientific/health community is a pretty feeble argument but sadly rather typical when it comes to the MMR alarmists.

“Yes, the government pandered to the worried well but given the drive toward to greater consumerism in the health market I anticipate that this group will continue to represent a powerful lobby – after all, they have Dr Google on their side, so why should they listen to paternalistic doctors?”

For the same reason that I could google “How to fly a 747” but would you want to get in it with me at the controls ?

Are you denying that existence of massive accessing of health advice on the Internet?

“Blaming NuLab for a concept rejected by the international scientific/health community is a pretty feeble argument but sadly rather typical when it comes to the MMR alarmists.”

If there was demand for the single jabs, why were they not forthcoming. No one said they were less efacious or anything, just that MMR was more convenient and more effective. If parents were refusing it, why did the government not offer the alternative at the extra cost it would incur say? The lack of flexibility shown here is amazing – just because people are wrong about something does not mean you abandon their children: if they are that convinced that say MMR is wrong, let them pay that bit extra for the alternative.

And I am not sure citing an NHS website counts as independent verification of anything much. My wife when young never had the MMR (and subsequently caught all three) because her doctor advised her mother against it. He was from the NHS, but was clearly wrong. And websites tend to express management opinion – most anti-MMR types thought the NHS management were brushing everything under the carpet.

41. the a&e charge nurse

[38] not unless you have a pilots license, but then again I would be unlikely to accept medical advice from you on the basis of a few internet articles.

Curiously an increasing % of ‘consumers’ seem to regard such reading experiences as tantamount to a bona fide medical qualification.

The pork-fever outbreak typified the juxtaposition between anxious consumer and health delivery system – honestly, individuals who behaved perfectly rationally in their professional life developed a severe and deep seated neurosis whenever vague symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, or headache failed to resolve after a few nanoseconds.

Needless to say the Fail’s hysterical approach hardly helped create a mood in which balanced reflection or sensible debate could take place, as Claude so succinctly illustrates.

42. the a&e charge nurse

[40] in short the needs of the consumer, even when it comes to painful and unnecessary treatment being inflicted on children, trumps all.

We all just have to disagree that this is the optimum model of health care.

You don’t have to be a health economist to appreciate that cash wasted on less effective treatment not only diverts vital resources from more needy patient groups but actively contributes to an increase disease prevalence (unless you a conspiracy theorist who refuses to accept the evidence).

Maybe YOU have scientific data proving the advantages of multiple single vaccines but I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to produce it.

Daniel,

The problem here is education, as people learn because of our hoop-jumping system that they can find ‘information’ on the internet (and indeed, lazy teachers set tasks of finding it without checks). So the internet is taken to be truth, and this is passed up to older generations.

Also a culture of accepting that which is written as correct exists, and is encouraged by the agencies of government (just by their nature – nothing malicious). Again this is a problem on the internet where something can look authorative.

So if your concern is people accessing wrong information on the internet, why is the solution to control supply. Why not educate people as to how to discriminate between truth and lies, and, perhaps, try to get the correct story on the internet as well.

@42.

Please don’t hold your breath as I believe the MMR to be the best solution. But the government managed to put those without our ability to filter the truth from the hype (not too difficult reading Ms Phillips I would have thought…) in a situation where they had the MMR (believed by them to be dangerous to their child) or paid full whack for the alternative/went without. Not sure that is anyone’s optimum model of health provision is it?

I do believe the needs of the consumer (actually patient is the appropriate word I believe) is paramount. Again, any other system seems odd. If the patient is a minor, then their parent is empowered to make the decision about their needs on their behalf. If you do not trust the parent to do this, then take the minor into state care or find an alternative parent. What happened here was patient (representative) voices being ignored about their wants, so some patients being left unprotected as a result. Seems stupid to me.

45. the a&e charge nurse

[44] “I do believe the needs of the consumer (actually patient is the appropriate word I believe) is paramount”.

PARAMOUNT?

Look at the effects of consumerism on the single vaccine issue, or perhaps more pertinently, the clamour for tamiflu – health consumerism in action so to speak.

Do you really want to base decisions, on something that effects us all, by who shouts the loudest (or most effectively) rather than clinical need (as judged by medical staff with decades of experience in their respective specialties)?

45.

Check what you originally wrote. The needs of the consumer. Well if the NHS is not based on needs it clearly has a problem (actually, NICE seem to be some of the way down this road).

My personal view is that the NHS or individual doctors (take your pick depending on ideology, mood, personal experience or how your team did last night) should be able to set out a course of treatment for a condition, and if you want something different you source it and pay for the difference and costs. Allows consumer choice but also the NHS to focus on sensible solutions. After all, the NHS has no obligation to stop people being stupid, and if it concerns a child medical staff can always alert the appropriate authorities.

Fail to see the point of Tamiflu in all this though. My recollection is that the government sought to reassure people by portraying this as a useful treatment, hence creating the demand (although they also had the supply – if memory serves me right they had stockpiles that were due to expire last autumn anyway).

And if consumerism is ruled by whoever shouts the loudest, I assume this is the market for megaphones? Most of us shop around or chose not to for convenience etc. when buying food or fridges or whatever. Why this should be different in health services has always mystified me. And for avoidance of doubt, free at point of use healthcare is something I believe in; the current system has a few flaws though.


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  1. Darren Bridgman

    RT libcon :: Daily Mail hypocrisy in slamming Swine Flu 'scare machine' http://bit.ly/8qG8Wk

  2. Max Alter

    Liberal Conspiracy » Daily Mail hypocrisy in slamming Swine Flu …: Six months ago Britain's tabloids were tollin… http://bit.ly/7cmJZ0

  3. Ron Simon

    Liberal Conspiracy » Daily Mail hypocrisy in slamming Swine Flu …: Booker's piece follows yesterday's report by … http://bit.ly/7wYFhI

  4. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: Daily Mail hypocrisy in slamming Swine Flu 'scare machine' http://bit.ly/8qG8Wk

  5. Dick Smith

    RT @libcon: :: Daily Mail hypocrisy in slamming Swine Flu 'scare machine' http://bit.ly/8qG8Wk





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