Alex Berenson, a graduate of Yale University was an investigative reporter for the New York times for about 10 years. He covered the drug industry and financial fraud. He now works independently. His book, Pandemia, an account of Covid, our government and public health response and that impact on personal and national health, was released 11/30/2021. The book is already the number one best seller in its category on Amazon.
The book is a fascinating read. As you may imagine, it is full of statistics and studies. But it is expressed in a novel style such that complex concepts are made understandable without bogging the reader down. There is good energy throughout making it a very readable and gripping account of what happened to us, both personally and as a nation, this last year.
Intriguing to me in choosing this book was to understand more of the person who wrote it. How his own life was affected. Why he chose this path. Or it chose him. Because it was not the easy path.
Berenson said, that while working at the Times, he discovered that journalist fall into 2 categories. Inside reporters are good at getting powerful people to talk to them. Outside reporters prefer to dig up facts those people would rather not discuss at all. He realized that he fell into the latter category.
In 2006, as a Times reporter, he was given access to files from Eli Lilly which showed a Lilly medication Zyprexia caused considerable weight gain and even diabetes in many who took it – who were often those severely mentally ill and among the most vulnerable people around.
He wasn’t supposed to have those documents. They were sealed under federal court order. He didn’t care. This was a story people needed to hear – facts they weren’t getting elsewhere. Facts that would help them make better choices. The story ran as a front-page headline.
He wrote a book in 2019 called “Tell Your Children”, a book about the psychiatric health risks of cannabis, especially in young developing brains. If he had written that book in another era, he would be comfortably in the mainstream – preaching to the choir. But he wrote it when states were voting to legalize the drug. When sentiment was strongly the other direction. Against the tide of popular opinion.
Still, he was confident major news outlets would give the book a fair hearing. The book drew on the world’s most respected medical journals. He was no right-wing apologist and had years of credible investigative work. Malcolm Gladwell gave it high marks.
He was wrong.
Other reporters and previous friends were embarrassed. Top media outlets either ignored or mocked the book. NPR stations made and then canceled interview. Times had changed.
So, he understood the cost of delivering information powerful people prefer not to be known, and the weapons of suppression.
During the lockdown in New York, when all families were pushed indoors, he took his young daughter to a deserted park where the slide and swings were cordoned off with crime scene tape. It was a distinction a 3-year-old does not understand, as she dashed to push past the tape to climb on the slide. A lady parked on the street located at the edge of the park rolled down her window and announced, “I’m calling the police”. And she did. And the police arrived to serve and protect this child from catching Covid outdoors from playground equipment. Meanwhile, BLM, Antifa and other public demonstrations were not only allowed, but upheld as essential by authorities. He understood the insanity.
Still, as he began to speak to issues of our Covid response, he could not have anticipated the anger of his own Father. Anger for his son’s public questioning of the lockdowns and closing of schools.
His Father had leukemia. He had run the gamut of available treatments. No viable options with actual promise remained. A fact that his oncologists - as he switched from one ineffective modality and provider to another – seemed reluctant to tell him. It was a quest that nearly killed him due to aggressive Chemotherapy.
I will let Berenson tell the story in his own words:
My father was desperately afraid. He could not imagine his passing even as it was on him. He wanted to live. And when coronavirus came to town, he didn’t want to die of it either. If that meant locking down the world, so be it. He made it clear that he didn’t care how long he, or society, had to stop living, as long as he stayed alive.
I wanted him to live, too. But I knew he wouldn’t.
Denial is understandable, perhaps even merciful for the individual pilgrim on his final journey. But it doesn’t work for society as a whole. Not if our denial about the mortality of the aged and sick comes at the cost of denying children a chance at full lives of their own.
I’d like to think that by the end my father was proud of me for fighting the lockdowns, fighting for the truth.
But since we’re talking about the truth, the truth is: I’m pretty sure he wasn’t.
I wonder if I could stand there. Floating down the river in the current of popular opinion is safe and easy. Standing by core beliefs, being willing to be a truth teller at the time it matters, when there are no accolades for telling the truth, is not easy. But it sharpens purpose and defines character.
Science makes no claim to morality. It just is. It is what most closely corresponds to reality. It has been painful to me as a physician to watch science hijacked to serve personal agendas of politics, power, and greed. To see fear weaponized. One of the greatest costs of this pandemic will be the loss of public trust in the institutions of medicine. I don’t know how that trust will ever be recovered.
Tim Powell MD