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The media blind spot keeps getting bigger.
The unprecedented public health crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has upended just about every part of American public life, but one factor remains unchanged:
The knee-jerk reflex of the mainstream media to pour blame on President Donald Trump — even when it’s clear that either his administration isn’t at fault — or that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, should shoulder some of the responsibility for the nation’s problems.
Fortunately, the Trump presidential campaign and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are around to remind the media of their real responsibilities.
When it comes to the kind of personal protective covering worn by medical professionals treating those infected with the virus, the media has given a fair amount of attention to a looming shortage of N95 masks, the kind made from lightweight foam that are more protective than standard, cloth surgical masks.
What isn’t getting much attention at all, though, is which presidential administration is actually responsible for the federal government’s current shortfall in that department.
According to reports from Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times, the shortage predates the current crisis by a full decade — going back to the H1N1 outbreak of 2009-10 and its aftermath, when the Obama administration failed to replenish the huge numbers of the masks that were used by the medical profession.
The masks are part of a vast repository of material known as the Strategic National Stockpile — an arsenal of drugs and medical gear that’s controlled by the federal government for use in times of emergency, such as a pandemic striking American shores.
Bloomberg News is no right-wing news outlet — the guy who owns it just ran a hideously expensive and painfully ineffective campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But in a report published last week about the national shortage of medical supplies, including N95 masks, the article made it clear that the whole stockpile is running low.
And it made the culprit even clearer:
“The national stockpile used to be somewhat more robust. In 2006, Congress provided supplemental funds to add 104 million N95 masks and 52 million surgical masks in an effort to prepare for a flu pandemic,” the report read.
“But after the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”
Many readers will remember that the man in the Oval Office in 2009 and the years afterward was named Barack Obama. They also might remember his vice president was named Joe Biden, the current Democratic front-runner who has the gall to try to lecture the Trump administration these days on its conduct in the coronavirus crisis.
In a report published Saturday, the Los Angeles Times (another not-very-right-wing news outlet) was even more explicit.
“After the swine flu epidemic in 2009, a safety-equipment industry association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended that depleted supplies of N95 respirator masks, which filter out airborne particles, be replenished by the stockpile, which is maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” the Times reported.
“That didn’t happen, according to Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Assn.
“The stockpile drew down about 100 million masks during the 2009 epidemic, Johnson said.
“’Our association is unaware of any major effort to restore the stockpile to cover that drawdown,’ he said.
Missing from both reports is any answer as to why the Obama administration failed to replace a critical piece of medical materiel in the National Strategic Stockpile.
Why was the U.S. left so vulnerable to the possibility of a pandemic when the Obama administration had just seen one hitting the country?
Gingrich, who’s spent his post-Congress years building a career as an acerbic political commentator and prolific author, is one of the many Americans who would like Biden or his presidential campaign to answer that question:
Can Vice President Biden explain why the Obama administration did not order the N95 masks to replace the 100 million used in the Asian Flu epidemic. Experts advised replacing them but Obama-Biden team failed to buy them. Shortage starts with them. Explain it Joe!
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) March 23, 2020
When you distance yourself from everyday people like the democrats have done, you have no interest in their needs, or values. pic.twitter.com/1QSlDmisY4
— Chuck Poe (@ChuckAlexanderP) March 23, 2020
Say it ain’t so Dementia Joe, say it ain’t so?! pic.twitter.com/BEuHAuCxqB
— The Swamp Fox (Dick Peter Johnson) (@YinzgyzPgh) March 23, 2020
As some users pointed out, the masks have a shelf life of five years, according to 3M, a manufacturer of the equipment.
However, as others noted, if the masks had been replaced after being used in the 2009-10 outbreak, they would have been in the cycle to be replaced again.
Had they been replaced again five years later, the chances are very good that instead of a shortage, the Strategic National Stockpile would either be sitting on an almost-new freshly supplied batch of the N95 masks or have more already in the re-supply pipeline.
If the stockpile was stuck with masks past their shelf life because new ones hadn’t been ordered, the media would be having a field day with “exposes” about Trump administration incompetence right now.
Instead, the shortage goes back to the Obama years — an arrogant administration that showed every sign of not caring a bit about the years that were to come after it, from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal to the travesty of justice and insult to common sense known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
But when Obama’s to blame, the media’s blind spot just keeps getting wider.