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The Totalitarian Mind of Donald G. McNeil


Do you think we need a Pentagon for public health to wage war on new pathogens? Not likely, and that is based on recent experience. The pandemic planners wrecked our lives. We have yet to recover. 

Cities are still suffering from business closures, learning losses and school absenteeism, and rampant crime. Trust in once-revered institutions is at an all-time low, as is public health generally (depression, obesity, and substance abuse). We could go on and on. 

One man thinks the problem is that we didn’t go far enough. Next time, he says, we should go much farther in locking down. No travel. Jail doctors for dissenting. Force everyone to accept whatever pharma dishes out. Censor all critics. Nonprofits who object should be targeted by the IRS. All dissenters should face “severe consequences.” 

That’s because “the Western focus on personal liberty above all else can kill.” You might say that sounds fascistic. He admits it too: “The longer I cover disease, the more of a public health fascist I become.”

And that sentence is what is weirdly wonderful (if chilling) about the book The Wisdom of Plagues by Donald G. McNeil. As outrageously wrong as the book is about nearly everything, it is brilliantly written, engaging, gripping, and frank. It’s his way, and it is probably why he was fired from the New York Times. This is his apologia pro vita sua. 

You see, McNeil was the very first English-language voice who on February 27, 2020, in a NYT podcast, alerted the whole of the Western media as to what was coming: lockdown. 

It was not so much a warning but a promise. The public health wisdom of one hundred years was about to be tossed in the fire. In its place would come a new experiment in totalitarian control of our lives. 

It was McNeil who penned the February 28, 2020, article “To Take on the Coronavirus, Go Medieval On It.” Suffice it to say that he bears a great deal of responsibility for what happened, given his status and position. 

Now of course he repudiates everything the US did on grounds that we only had a soft lockdown. China did it the right way with its “airtight lockdown” but even they later sold out the great cause, for which our author criticizes the CCP. 

To his mind, when there is a virus on the loose, we need a full end to human volition until government can “roll out a vaccine or find a cure. In the meantime, you must educate your populace, gain their trust, and get as much support as you can for measures that will save lives—even if you ultimately have to impose them by fiat.”

If you want the short version of the book, he has written it in a New York Post article: “The US needs a ‘Pentagon’ for diseases.” “I generally back ironfisted responses to epidemics,” he writes. 

Here is a man who very nearly tasted the power that comes with running the world. He was extremely close to all of it, pen pals with Anthony Fauci and the Walter Duranty of virus control at the New York Times, the world’s most influential media voice. The experience has plainly made him crazy. 

It’s true that everybody wants to rule the world, but he is an unusual person who came very close. We notice that his book nowhere mentions Sweden, which went on with daily life while eschewing the global virus control machinery at every turn, and with excellent results. He cannot stand to think of that so it has disappeared from his mind. 

Let’s save a full critique for some other time. In many ways, it’s already been written: Fear of a Microbial Planet by Steve Templeton. Just read that. I wish our author would, not that this would change his mind. 

That aside, he is an experienced journalist who was there all along and he does dollop out a few interesting pieces. 

For nearly four years, I’ve been curious about who spoke to him to give him the green light to whip up the nation into a disease frenzy. How did it come to be that the NYT let him? Here he spills the beans. 

“Then on February 24, [2020] the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,000 points, the first lurch in what would ultimately be a 30 percent drop. President Trump responded with a tweet: ‘The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock market starting to look very good to me!’ 

“The next day, in a phone call with reporters, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s chief of respiratory diseases, effectively contradicted him, saying a major outbreak in the United States was ‘not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather a question of exactly when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness.’ She suggested that Americans ‘start thinking about’ how they would cope if their schools and businesses closed, gatherings were canceled, and travel was limited. The markets tumbled further, enraging the president. 

“On February 27, prompted by Dr. Messonnier’s words and the shaky markets, Michael Barbaro invited me onto his podcast, The Daily. He began by asking how many epidemics I had covered and how bad I thought this one could be.”

So there we have our answer. It was the CCD’s own Nancy Messonier. She was in touch with Anthony Fauci and he with McNeil, as we know from emails. So the entire apparatus of how the administrative state undermined the Trump administration during this period is right there in black and white. 

Actually, even 10 days earlier, Dr. Messonnier was already holding phone calls with the media that contradicted everything the Trump administration was saying. On February 12, 2020, she told the media as follows: “The goal of the measures we have taken to date are to slow the introduction and impact of this disease in the United States but at some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S. Or other countries and this will trigger a change in our response strategy.”

McNeil was right there all along. It’s a fascinating case of how administrative agencies dictate the news. In McNeil’s own telling, the NYT was not willing to let him go to print with his alarmism and panic until he had confirmation that it was on target from the CDC and Fauci. He obtained that, and then went straight to podcasting and print. It was a done deal at that point. 

So the great question of who started this whole fiasco is thus answered in the most obvious way possible: it was the CDC and Fauci. To be sure, you could say that they had their marching orders too but that layer of the onion is yet waiting for full documentation. 

Now, who is this Dr. Messonier? She left the CDC in 2021, said to be pushed out by incoming CDC director Rochelle Walensky for reasons we do not know. Messonier landed at the Skoll Foundation as the executive director for Pandemic Prevention and Health Systems. 

Her brother is Rod Rosenstein, a former United States Deputy Attorney General who two years earlier (2017) wrote the letter that President Trump used as a reason to fire James Comey as FBI director. Rosenstein clearly did not want to do this but he did it anyway, and probably deeply regretted the attention he got for it. 

What is the connection between the CDC’s push for lockdown and the firing of the director of the FBI? I do not know. Is there one? Probably. Certainly people in February 2020 thought there might be

And McNeil himself offers an interesting little clue in this paragraph:

“The CDC director should not change with every new administration…It leads to craven silence from the director when the president claims a pandemic will just ‘fade away.’ As with the FBI, the director should come from within the ranks and serve a fixed term.”

Oh but surely it is merely a coincidence that McNeil analogizes the CDC to the FBI director with the claim that neither should be subject to firing by the president? Maybe. It’s still uncanny. 

Keep in mind that all this swirling around to warm up the press corps to lockdowns took place during and after the US/UK/EU junket to China from February 16-24. Top bureaucrats were shown around Wuhan and told how great the CDC handled the virus. The WHO wrote a glowing report, and the rest was history. 

The Trump administration did not come around to an “all-of-government” approach until March 10, by which time the whole of the national media and administrative state was raring to go. As a friend put it, Trump was boxed in from all sides: his own agencies, national media, big tech, and essentially everyone who mattered. Why he has refused to admit this is also a mystery. 

Finally, there is a missing but crucial few weeks completely missing from McNeil’s narrative history: the days between his podcast of March 11, 2020, and the lockdown orders themselves. He references the lockdown only in passive voice: businesses were closed, events were canceled, and so on. Those are the exact days on which we should be focused because that’s when the world was wrecked by the public health bureaucrats for whom he carried water. 

Otherwise, there is a peculiar way in which we should be grateful for McNeil’s strangely blunt book. It’s a map for what is very likely in store for us courtesy of the “pandemic planning” industry. Read it and weep. Or read it and resist. 

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Jeffrey A. Tucker

    Jeffrey Tucker is Founder, Author, and President at Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Life After Lockdown, and many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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