Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News correspondent and investigative reporter. She’s covered Capitol Hill since February 2006 and has been a Washington-based correspondent there since January 1995. She was also part of the CBS news team that received the Edward Murrow Award in 2005 for overall excellence. Additionally, she received an Outstanding Investigative Journalism Emmy in 2002 for a series on the Red Cross.
In case you didn't realize it, Sharyl Attkisson is the investigative reporter behind the groundbreaking CBS News study that found H1N1 flu cases are NOT as prevalent as feared.
In fact, they’re barely on the radar screen.How did this startling information come about, and why is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) painting a different picture entirely? I spoke directly with Sharyl Attkisson to find out.
Getting Started on the Swine Flu Trail
The first video is an amazing interview I did with Sharyl about ten days ago and what the bulk of this article is based on.
The second video is brand new and was done at noon yesterday in which I was videoed in the CBS studio in downtown Chicago. Sharyl was gracious enough to invite me to be on with Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former director of the NIH. We both were in agreement about the swine flu and opposed to the stance the CDC is taking, but we had different views on mammograms.
Please also watch the second interview as it is very entertaining.
Ms. Attkisson says:
“The reason I looked into this is a couple of months ago, I got tips from three or four different segments of public healthcare, with folks telling me the CDC has recommended that they go ahead and stop testing for and counting swine flu cases.
Each different entity that contacted me was concerned, thinking that this should not be happening. They really felt that it was necessary for the swine flu to continue to be tracked in some details. So I went about trying to find out why this decision was made and what the ramifications would be.
… I started by contacting the CDC and the HHS and asking some basic questions. I felt like I pretty much got stonewalled with some of the information I really needed to get at, especially what I needed from the states data, and information on the rationale behind this decision to stop counting and testing for swine flu.”
Because the CDC did not initially respond to Attkisson’s requests, she contacted all 50 states directly, asking for their statistics on state lab-confirmed H1N1 prior to the halt of individual testing and counting in July. She also asked states, one by one, to help explain the rationale behind the CDC’s decision to stop tracking H1N1 cases.
“One of my good sources within the government said to me that they’re either trying to, in his opinion, over-represent the swine flu numbers or under-represent by not counting them anymore. He said, “You need to find out which it is.” And so to find out which it might be, I really wanted to see the data that the CDC had at the time it made the decision to quit counting the cases.”
What Her Investigative Report Reveals
If you listen to most media outlets and even to government agencies, you get the impression that virtually every person who has visited their physician with flu-like symptoms in recent months has H1N1, with no testing necessary because, after all, there's an epidemic.
We are all being led to believe that every case diagnosed as “swine flu” or even as “flu-like illness” is, in fact, swine flu.
But Attkisson’s investigation revealed a very different picture right from her first contact with individual states. She explains:
“Across the country, state by state, they were testing [for H1N1] until CDC told them not to bother. They were testing, in general, the cases most likely to be believed to have been swine flu based on a doctor’s diagnosis of symptoms and risk factors such as travel to Mexico.
These special cases were going to state labs for absolute confirmation with the best test -- not the so-called “rapid testing,” but the real confirmation test.
Of those presumed likely swine flu cases out of approximately every hundred of what was tested, only a small fraction were actually swine flu. In every instance, perhaps the biggest number of cases that were swine flu was something like 30%. The smallest number was something like 2% or 3%.
Maybe there’s one state where it was just 1%.
The point is, of the vast majority of the presumed swine flu cases recognized by trained physicians, the vast majority were not flu at all. They weren’t swine flu or regular flu; they were some other sort of upper respiratory infection.”
And here is the clincher that it seems the CDC just doesn’t want the American public to know …
“The CDC explained that one of the reasons they quit counting was because of all the flu that’s out there, most are swine flu. Well, that’s true. Most of the flu that was out there was indeed swine flu, but they failed to say that most of the suspected flu was nothing at all. And I think that’s the caveat the public just didn’t know,” Attkisson explains.
She gives even more striking examples of the numbers the investigative report revealed. For instance:
- In Florida, 83 percent of specimens that were presumed to be swine flu were negative for all flu when tested!
- In California, 86 percent of suspected H1N1 specimens were not swine flu or any flu; only 2 percent were confirmed swine flu.
- In Alaska, 93 percent of suspected swine flu specimens were negative for all flu types; only 1 percent was H1N1 flu.
Freedom of Information and Getting the Truth Out
It is not easy for journalists to access this type of information, and they often have to wait weeks, months or even years for information from the CDC and the FDA -- information that is readily available and supposed to be clearly public.
Attkisson expands on the difficulties she faced in trying to get simple data regarding swine flu cases in the United States:
“They [CDC’s public affairs] quit communicating with me when I pressed on why I couldn’t get certain information. They just wouldn’t answer my emails anymore. So I had to file a Freedom of Information request, which is usually my last choice because I know I was going into a deep black hole many times and I’ll never get an answer.
But in this case, I got an interesting response on October 19 from the CDC when I had asked for some simple, public documents that would have been easy for them to obtain too quickly.
Journalists are allowed to ask for expedited processing of their Freedom of Information request because, for obvious reasons, they’re working on a story that may have public impact or be of public interest. The agencies are not supposed to use the Freedom of Information Law to obstruct or delay the release of this information.
This may be the first time I was denied that expedited processing from Freedom of Information that we’re entitled to as members of the press; a letter from HHS or Health and Human Services (the CDC is under HHS) said to me that one of the reasons they’re denying my expedited processing is because this is not a matter of “widespread and exceptional media or public interest.”
In other words, the CDC doesn’t think these questions about swine flu prevalence and these other things that we’ve been asking are, at least in their opinion in this letter, not a matter of widespread and exceptional media or public interest.”
Yet, while the CDC expressed that questions about swine flu prevalence were not a matter of widespread media or public interest, the President had declared the swine flu a national public health emergency!
The inconsistencies at the CDC are nearly incomprehensible.
The Ramifications of the Swine Flu Policy
According to Attkisson’s CBS News study, when you come down with chills, fever, cough, runny nose, malaise and all those other "flu-like" symptoms, the illness is likely caused by influenza at most 17 percent of the time and as little as 3 percent! The other 83 to 97 percent of the time it's caused by other viruses or bacteria.
So remember that not every illness that appears to be the flu actually is the flu. In fact, most of the time it's not.
Curiously, the CDC still advises those who were told they had 2009 H1N1 (and therefore should be immune to getting it again) to get vaccinated unless they had lab confirmation.
But because very few people have actually had a lab-confirmed case of H1N1 (and in most cases those people told they had swine flu probably did not), this means nearly everyone is still being advised to get the swine flu vaccine.
Attkisson has been one of the few to speak out against this flawed system and point out the serious ramifications that come when a public health agency is secretive about their health data.
“From a public and journalistic standpoint, I believe the mistake comes when you don’t fully disclose to the public as you go and discover the mistakes. Try to disclose and fix things that come up.
Everybody understands that there isn’t a perfect system, but I think you need to be upfront with them, explain what you’re doing, and explain what you’re discovering. If you’ve made a mistake or you feel like you need to correct something, say that, too, but don’t just try to keep information from the public.”
I couldn’t agree more, and Attkisson’s CBS News report has stood out like a bright light of truth among all the clouds of misinformation.
If you’d like to learn more about the report and its findings, you can read all the details in the past article CBS Reveals that Swine Flu Cases Seriously Overestimated.