FLASHBACK: When Conservative Media Didn't Care Bush's Bird Flu Czar Had No Medical Experience

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Fox News continues to lead the conservative attack on Ron Klain, whom President Obama appointed as the administration's Ebola coordinator, termed by some a "czar," to help direct the government's response to the rare virus and its arrival in Dallas, Texas.  

After days of demanding White House action on the issue (such as appointing a czar), conservatives, led by Republican Party leaders, immediately criticized the choice of Klain. Why? Because he has no medical background and because he's enjoyed a career as Democratic political insider, working as chief of staff for both former Vice President Al Gore and current Vice President Joe Biden.

On the recent Sunday morning talk shows, Republicans made sure to hammer their objections: 

"We were hopeful we were going to have someone who had the experience, not only from the medical community, but in emergency response," Republican Marsha Blackburn said on "Face the Nation."

And from Sen. Ted Cruz:

"Mr. Klain is not a doctor, he's not a health care professional, he doesn't have background in these issues," the Texas Republican said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.

On Fox, commentators have also been relentless:

For days the anti-Obama, anti-Klain talking point has been repeated. Indeed, the Fox team has been adamant: If the president appoints a czar to oversee a possible health crisis, that person must have a medical background.

Except, apparently, when the president was George Bush, the health fear was the bird flu virus, and Bush's czar had no medical background. Note that prior to becoming the nation's bird flu czar, Bush's point-person served as general counsel for Amtrak.

In 2004, Bush's bird flu czar was Stewart Simonson. He worked as an assistant secretary of health and human services for public health emergency preparedness. And although he had no medical experience or expertise in public health, he did enjoy a noted career as a Republican political insider.

As the late Molly Ivins wrote in 2005:

Simonson's [political] rabbi is former Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, who hired him out of law school, took him to Washington as deputy general counsel at Health and Human Services and then got him the job as general counsel of Amtrak.

CNN reported that year, "HHS officials admit Simonson has no undergraduate or advanced degree in public health."

When muted questions were raised about the selection, Health and Human Services secretary Thompson defended Simonson, much as the way the White House defends Klain, by stressing the czar's experience within government, his preparedness, and his ability to get things done. During his tenure, there was no indication that Simonson's lack of medical training hindered his ability to serve as Bush's bird flu czar.

So what was the Fox response when a point-person with no medical experience was tapped by the Bush White House to coordinate the government's dealing with a possible health crisis? Fox's response was radio silence. A search of Fox archives via Nexis produces no criticism of Simonson.

Granted, Simonson's appointment did not generate the amount of coverage that the recent Klain news has, and the bird flu never claimed a life in the United Sates. But if Fox News' dire demands that Obama's Ebola czar today must, must, must have a medical background, it stands to reason the same standard would have applied to Bush's pick of Simonson.

It did not.

And it wasn't just Fox News. From what I can see, there was very little coverage of Simonson's appointment within the conservative press, and virtually no objections to the fact he had no public health training. This, of course, is the same conservative media today that roundly and relentlessly criticizes the Klain appointment.

Meanwhile, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently addressed the wisdom of having a non-doctor in the position of Ebola czar: 

Posted In
The Presidency & White House, Health Care
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
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