Why Censoring the CDC Could Be a Matter of Life and Death

Clinicians in an intensive care unit. (Wikimedia Commons)

Does censoring free speech come at the cost of public health?

By now, it is well understood that the Trump administration has curbed seven words from appearing in official documents prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to a report by The Washington Post, the newly-limited words and terms are: diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgender and vulnerable.

However, the CDC explains no words are actually banned. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald responded to the report, “I want to assure there are no banned words at CDC.”

She went on, “CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people—and we will continue to do so.”

In a follow-up report, The New York Times cited a few CDC officials who referred to the move as a maneuver to help secure Republican approval of the 2019 budget via the elimination of certain words and phrases.

Whether it is ultimately political and ideological, or a measure by bureaucrats to save certain projects from budget cuts, terms like science-based and evidence-based are seeing their replacements in phrases like, “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

The concern is that hazy language, especially in the medical field, can ultimately make the difference between a patient living and dying. This is because such language is not a dependable basis for making specific and patient-tailored prognoses and diagnoses.

The terms thus far are only successfully banned in one part of the CDC, but critics of the action worry that such bureaucratic actions will cause a domino effect — like the banning of the term climate change at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection — eventually spreading the banned terms to the remainder of the organization, and by proxy, across the entire nation.

For example, the CDC is where doctors go when seeking whether or not to administer some vaccines. Back in 2000, pediatricians and family physicians learned it was safe to switch from a live polio vaccine to an inactivated one (IPV) in the United States because of the evidence the CDC had compiled, organized and posted to their website.

More specifically, practitioners knew specifically how much to administer (i.e., four doses of IPV at two months, four months, 6-18 months and a booster dose between ages four and six). This was scientifically tested and its effectiveness was proven — and none of this related to politics or bureaucracy.

Because of this testing, the IPV vaccine does not harm vulnerable populations, like children with immunodeficiency.

Such CDC-compiled information applies to many science-based fixes to health problems — not only polio — ranging from diseases like tuberculosis to food-borne illnesses to the best uses for car seats to the handling of pandemics.

Furthermore, much of the restricted language — like transgender, vulnerable, diversity and fetus — apply to particular groups of people, or those facing very specific scenarios.

When a particular group of people is neglected, those among that group do feel the discrimination. This applies to healthcare and the potential banning of words at the CDC. Groups that are marginalized tend not to participate in preventative healthcare, and may not seek help until they are quite ill.

This obviously precedes increased illnesses, death and rising healthcare costs for that group.

The present concern, with the banning or discouragement of certain words, is that the CDC recommendations will become useless to healthcare providers around the U.S. due to their vague phrasing.

For those who can decipher the new phrases that now replace the formerly unambiguous terms, these potential consequences may seem exaggerated. Some suggest that impeding the terminology is a slippery slope into authoritarianistic behavior from the U.S. government.

“The purpose of science is to search for truth, and when science is censored the truth is censored,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general, in the aforementioned report to The New York Times.

Requiring the CDC to use words and terms that are less specific than formerly permitted terms may winnow scientists and public health experts out of the agency. At the very least, an anonymous, former CDC official said to The New York Times that some staff members were unhappy because the new language implied that their work was being politicized.

Avoiding an issue does not eliminate it; shielding the American public from particular language does not make the very real meanings behind those terms vanish.

Limiting words that represent entire populations could potentially erase their experience from the public record, including the details that impact their health, the capacity to learn the unique needs of specific groups and the ability to study these groups. This sadly, but typically, hits vulnerable populations most forcefully.

Words and terms on their own may not seem so important, but their restriction could form the premise of an overhaul to the acknowledgment of specific groups of people and of science-based information. These people will still exist, but their issues could go unheard and unseen.

Weakening the American public health system — not only for the vulnerable — but for the entitled, and for all Americans, is, at minimum, a risky move.


If you think Fox News is the most loyal network to President Donald Trump, you likely haven't heard of One America News Network, or OAN.

The unabashedly pro-Trump network—largely considered a far-Right fringe outlet—has enjoyed expanded viewership over recent years thanks to glowing reviews from the President.

It's even been added to the prestigious White House press pool.

People were reminded of the network's bizarre Trump-era ascension during Monday's White House press briefing regarding the pandemic that—at the time of this writing—has resulted in over 3,000 deaths across the United States.

OAN's White House correspondent Chanel Rion compared the growing number of deaths from the pandemic to abortion procedures, asking Trump if abortions should be suspended all together.

The question flummoxed Trump himself.

Watch below.

Rion said:

"2,405 Americans have died from [the virus] in the last 60 days. Meanwhile, you have 2,369 children who are killed by their mothers through elective abortions each day. That's 16 and a half thousand children killed every week. Two states have suspended elective abortion to make more resources available...Should more states be doing the same?"

Even Trump seemed confused by the question, and notably didn't wade into the abortion aspect of the question:

"I think what we're doing, we're trying to, as a group ,governors—and that's Republicans and Democrats—we're just working together to solve this problem. What you're mentioning has been going on for a long time and it's a sad event, a lot of sad events in this country. But what we're doing now is working on the virus...and I think we're doing a great job—as good a job as you can possibly do."

People noticed that even Trump—either purposely or otherwise—didn't take the bait from one of his favorite networks.

Rion, who is Asian-American, previously made headlines when she asked Trump—who'd been criticized for describing the virus as "Chinese Virus"—if the phrase "Chinese food" was racist.

Her questions, while satiating viewers who prioritize "owning the libs" over potentially lifesaving information, have only confirmed the degradation of the press corps under the Trump era.

OAN's only redeemable quality? It doesn't claim to be "fair and balanced."

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images // Duffy-Marie Arnoult/WireImage

Even in the face of a global pandemic, President Donald Trump hasn't dispensed with his typical pettiness.

The President made that perfectly clear on Sunday afternoon, as deaths caused by the national health crisis continued to increase.

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President Donald Trump held his pandemic press briefing in the Rose Garden on Sunday—but his mood was far from rosy.

One particularly heated exchange came when he took a question from PBS NewsHour's White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

Alcindor asked Trump about the the skepticism he expressed that New York—the epicenter of the health crisis facing the United States—was exaggerating the number of lifesaving ventilators it needs to help curb the virus.

Trump interrupted Alcindor, claiming he "didn't say" that, then proceeded to berate her for her so-called "threatening" question.

Watch below.

Alcindor asked:

"You've said repeatedly that you think that some of the equipment governors are requesting, they don't actually need. You said New York might not need 30 thousand—"

Trump interrupted:

"I didn't say that. I didn't say that. Why don't you people...why don't you act in a little more positive? It's always trying to get me. Getcha, getcha. You know what, that's why nobody trusts the media anymore."

Though the President didn't reciprocate, Alcindor remained professional and repeated her question despite the President's attacks on her journalistic integrity in front of her colleagues.

What's more, Alcindor was right—and video proves it.

Alcindor referred to statements Trump made on far-right Fox News host Sean Hannity's show.

Watch below.

Trump said:

"I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they're going to be. I don't believe you need 40 thousand or 30 thousand ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, they'll have two ventilators and now all of a sudden they're saying, 'can we have 30 thousand ventilators?'"

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made clear that New York has yet to reach the height of the pandemic. The current number of ventilators is not enough to treat all of the infections to come, which could force doctors into rationing them and choosing not to treat patients with less optimistic prognoses.

Alcindor later pointed out that Trump did, in fact, express skepticism that New York was asking for ventilators they didn't need.

People called Trump out for responding to his own words with petty attacks.

They praised Alcindor for holding him accountable when so many others won't.

This was far from the first time Trump personally attacked Alcindor for doing her job.

Astonishingly, Trump denied his own words again in the same press conference when CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond asked Trump to elaborate on his Friday statements that governors aren't being "appreciative" enough of him and his administration.

If a President isn't beholden to congressional oversight, basic transparency, and even his own words, how can he be beholden to the American people?

For more stories of Trump's ineptitude from people who were there, check out A Very Stable Genius, available here.

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