New York Times article on Richard Besser ’81, acting head of the Center for Disease Control.


Dr. Richard E. Besser, one of the nation’s top public health officials, has won raves for his televised swine flu updates. His parents said he had been calmly reassuring since childhood, but Dr. Besser said weekly stints in the 1990s as a television health reporter in San Diego helped. “It made me comfortable being around cameras,” Dr. Besser said in an interview.

Lesson for current students interested in high profile jobs in the public sector? Get comfortable around cameras! Willinet, the local public-access television network, is a great place to start.

After 13 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Besser, 49, was plucked from relative obscurity in January to become the agency’s acting director. He has become the government’s chief health spokesman during the swine flu outbreak because the Obama administration’s top health positions largely remain unfilled, although Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday as health and human services secretary.

He has been reassuring. He has explained complicated issues simply. He has even acknowledged not knowing many answers.

Read the whole thing. Comments:

1) Besser certainly deserves a Bicentennial Medal.

2) Note that there is a little bit of source-greasing going on here. (Not that there is anything wrong with that! Recall the nice things that I was saying about soon-to-be-interim president Bill Wagner 5 (!) years ago.) Did you catch this anecdote?

Trained at Johns Hopkins as a pediatrician, Dr. Richard Besser joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1991 and was sent to Boston to investigate the E. coli infections that had left six children seriously ill.

After months of painstaking work that involved collecting deer droppings from apple orchards, he pinpointed apple cider as the source.

Officials were unhappy with the cost of his lengthy investigation, but Dr. Besser gained more than an answer to a medical mystery in Boston.

First, this story could only have come from Besser himself. How else would reporter Gardiner Harris know what CDC officials were “unhappy” about almost 20 years ago? Second, the story makes Besser out to be the hero, bravely ignoring bureaucratic concerns about “cost” to get to the bottom of a critical medical mystery. No amount of money is too much to spend on the investigation of (not the treatment for!) an outbreak that results in no fatalities. A less sympathetic reporter would have spun this as CDC officials pissed that Besser was taking so long on an investigation so that he could spend time with his new girlfriend.

3) I have been somewhat surprised at the number of Oh No! comments and links in our previous thread. It is over 99% likely that everyone (great example here) is overreacting, mainly because many of the key players have every incentive to overreact. Follow the money, as always.

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